- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s failure to show up at his own birthday celebration this weekend pairs with conciliatory-sounding words from his brother and heir-to-power, Raul, to make some in the United States think that radical change is in the offing. Change is coming, but judging by the last four months, it won’t be anything like a transition to democracy. Instead, a status quo regime is the likeliest outcome. We may well be witnessing the birth of a Caribbean equivalent to the People’s Republic of China, a regime capable of an economic opening but unlikely to change its repressive political arrangements.

The most striking evidence: The key players in the coming post-Fidel regime, already in their positions, are the same people whose improvisations kept Castro’s regime afloat after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Raul Castro, who has expressed admiration for Communist China’s economic advances in recent years, has assumed Fidel’s key posts as head of the Cuban military and intelligence services, first secretary of the Communist Party, leader of the Council of State and Politburo chief. Whether he has the stomach to replace Fidel over the medium or long term is debated, but to outsiders he does not appear to be rocking any boats as he consolidates his authority.

Among his top deputies is Carlos Lage Davila, who is credited with heading off regime collapse through the orchestration of a foreign-investment influx in the 1990s. Foreign Minister and Castro spokesman Felipe Perez Roque, also a former chief of staff to the dictator, remains in place. Two other top advisers, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura for health and Jose Ramon Balaguer for education, have been Castroites from the very beginning. They fought alongside the bearded revolutionary as anti-Batista guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra during the 1950s.

The Soviet Union’s famously ill-anticipated collapse was facilitated by regime insiders none too dissimilar from the ones whom we’re currently reading into the Cuban script as regime guardians. It could happen in Cuba, too. But don’t count on it.

What policies would the United States prefer in the event that Cuba remains politically repressive but signals ever greater economic openness? That difficult and intriguing question will be the subject of future editorials.

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