The Castro family dictatorship still holds the reins of power in Cuba

Cuban dictator Raul Castro with his son and his grandson

As much as many in the media would like you to believe otherwise, the Castro family still firmly holds the reins of power in communist Cuba.

Marcell Felipe in The Wall Street Journal:

The Castros Still Run Cuba

Raúl’s resignation as head of the ruling Communist Party changes nothing.

Raúl Castro announced his resignation as chief of Cuba’s Communist Party on Friday. Many U.S. media outlets characterized the move as the “end of an era” of communist rule on the Caribbean island. This is false. For many years Cuba has not really operated as a communist or socialist state. Instead it has been ruled by a military dictatorship that concentrates its power within a cartel-like chain of command of hard-line Castro family members and loyalists and generals who fiercely shield their wealth and status—as well as each other.

Many analysts are focused on whether Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel will inherit Mr. Castro’s leadership position as party secretary, which—on paper, at least—is the highest office in the land. This is a distraction, as is Mr. Díaz-Canel, who was installed by Mr. Castro in 2018 as part of a faux transition of power. In Cuba, the Castro family leads with an iron fist, and the party and government follow suit. Even the Communist Party’s online motto, #SomosContinuidad—“we are continuity”—implies the regime is determined not to change.

The key figure of Cuba’s silent elite is Gen. Luis López Callejas, Mr. Castro’s former son-in-law and the father of his grandchildren. Mr. López Callejas leads Gaesa, a military-run conglomerate that controls about 75% of the Cuban economy, including hotels, construction companies, shipping companies, hard-currency transmitters and currency exchanges. In 2018, a former State Department official told a Senate subcommittee that Cuban military personnel under Mr. López Callejas’s command were “directly involved” in trafficking cocaine from Venezuela.

Another key figure is Mr. Castro’s son, Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, a powerful member of the Cuban intelligence apparatus. He maintains a close relationship with the Kremlin and was directing Cuba’s spy agencies at the time of the 2019 sonic attacks against U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba, which are still unexplained.

These Castro family members and loyalists like José Machado Ventura, Ramiro Valdés and other Cuban military officials whose names most Americans have never heard are the real rulers of Cuba.

Fortunately, President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are consulting with and listening to Sen. Bob Menendez, the Democratic Party’s top Cuba expert in Congress. Mr. Menendez knows these names well. In a statement, he said that the regime is playing a “symbolic little game of musical chairs” and “the U.S. government must remain firmly on the side of the Cuban people in their fight for freedom.”

U.S. engagement with the Cuban government should come only after the regime implements real democratic reforms. Cuba is currently experiencing its worst economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Castro regime itself almost collapsed. This time there is no Fidel and no revolutionary ideology. All that’s left is a dictatorship.

What would political change in Cuba look like? It will most likely happen in one of three ways. In the first scenario, as the old military guard dies, a younger military figure could attempt to seize power from the new generation of Castros. If such a figure is savvy enough to align with the dissident movement and the Cuban-American community, this could yield real change.

In a second scenario, the civil unrest that has plagued the regime for the past year could lead to crowds overtaking the regime. No one can rule this scenario out or predict when it might happen.

In a third scenario, the crumbling Cuban economy and pressure from the dissident community could force the regime to negotiate and avoid a violent end. This is admittedly the least likely scenario.

No matter what the headlines suggest, political change is not imminent in Cuba. The island still marches to the beat of the Castro family’s drum. A system of free and fair elections with respect for civil rights and the rule of law can come only when Cuba’s military dictatorship is eradicated and a constitution based on democratic principles takes its place.

Anything less is a show staged for the Castro regime’s apologists in the international community. As always, they will demand the lifting of sanctions against the regime that has oppressed the Cuban people for 62 years.

Mr. Felipe is founder of the Initiative for Democratic and Economic Alternatives for Cuba, a project of the Inspire America Foundation.

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