08/16/13 - Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) - Prelude To Succession: Charisma, Routinization and Fidel Castro's Timing
[On February 23rd, 2008 Cuba-L distributed the essay that we are distributing today. The essay is useful for various reasons. First, it points out the very process by which charismatic authority began to be changed into institutionalized routinization. Second, sociologists are aware that this is a process that requires a set of preconditions as well as precipitants. Third, charisma is not a subjective quality that a person has. Fourth, there are three possible types of authority. Each type is the result of historical circumstances. Charisma is one of the types [the other two are; traditional and institutional/bureaucratic. Again, charisma is not "something" that a person has. Charisma is what followers assume a person has. The former pays attention to the "leader", the latter stresses the necessity of paying attention to the "followers". There is no charismatic authority by itself.]
by Nelson P Valdés
"Martí no debió de morir/ pues era el maestro del día/. Otro gallo
cantaría,/ la patria se salvaría,/ y Cuba sería feliz."
["Martí shouldn't have died / because he was the leader of his day / But
another rooster will crow / the nation will be saved / and Cuba will be
happy."] -- Popular song
"Every agency, at the local level, state level and federal level, they all
have plans drawn up about what would happen if Fidel dies." -- U.S. Rep.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami)
The transfer of political power away from Fidel Castro was planned years
Preparation for it went into effect when he fell ill, and by the end of
July 2006 Fidel provisionally delegated power to his brother Raúl. What
had been provisional became permanent on February 18, 2008. But this was
no longer a personal delegation of power; rather, the decision would depend
on what elected officials at the National Assembly decided.
Over the years, there has been much speculation, and many imaginary
scenarios have been concocted, regarding the end of the charismatic
leader's rule. But what these various alternative scripts did not consider
was the possibility of several preludes to succession.
On June 23rd, 2001, at 11:27am, while speaking at a rally in the town of
Cotorro, Fidel Castro briefly fainted. The intense heat of the morning and
many hours of work (he had not slept the night before) may been a factor in
his falling asleep at the podium. As some people carried Fidel away, Felipe
Pérez Roque, the Foreign Minister, took over the microphone, asked everyone
to be calm, shouted "Viva Raúl, Viva Fidel" and asked the people to go
home. But as he was saying those words, Fidel Castro returned. He informed
his audience that he would take a nap and then in the afternoon continue
The rally ended thereafter. As he spoke, the majority of the crowd shouted
Fidel's name. By 6:00pm he appeared on the television program "Mesa
Redonda." "¡Estoy entero!" (I am fine) he said, trying to dissipate
peoples' worries. Without having slept in the interim since the morning, he
spoke for a few hours. At one point he commented that since he was doing
well, someone could think that he played dead in order to see what kind of
funeral he was given. However, this was the first time in his revolutionary
career that anything like that had happened. (In 1960 he lost his voice
while giving a speech nationalizing US corporations, but a shot of rum
seemingly cured the malady). Speculations about his health soon dominated
the world media, but within days it all dissipated. Nevertheless, his
brother Raúl accompanied him at the TeleRebelde studio from where Fidel
At a Communist Party meeting on July 15th, 2003, military and political
plans were drawn up to contend with a possible military attack from the
United States. The George W. Bush administration, pumped up after its
invasion of Iraq, had escalated its ongoing confrontation with Cuba's
government. On this occasion, the Cuban plans included concrete steps to be
taken in case of Fidel Castro's incapacity or death, prior or during a US
military attack. [The US military had targeted Saddam Hussein]. The policy
was clearly delineated: to make sure that there would be a new
politico-administrative leadership in the island if Fidel Castro was no
longer there. On May 6, 2004 the United States government imposed the
toughest measures ever on the relations between the two countries (though
food sales were still permitted under certain conditions). The tension led
Fidel Castro to state in an open letter (June 21, 2004) to the American
president, "In Cuba's present condition to confront an invasion, my
physical absence by natural or other causes would not hurt our ability, in
any way, to fight and resist."
On October 21, 2004, after finishing a speech in Santa Clara, Fidel Castro
failed to see a step. He fell, breaking his knee and right arm.
Experiencing excruciating pain, he refused to allow his aides to take him
away immediately; instead, he requested a microphone and told the
university students to continue their planned activities and partying. He
reassured them that he was still "in one piece." His surgery was performed
with rachideal anesthesia so that he would not lose consciousness. In a
notification to the Cuban people he stated, "''From the moment of the fall,
I have not stopped attending to the most important tasks that I am
responsible for, in coordination with the other comrades.'' And added, "I'm
recovering well and will not lose contact with you.'' It is not far-fetched
to assume that the Cuban government did not want to convey the slightest
indication to people in Washington that Fidel Castro was not in command.
The Cuban leader slowly regained control of his arm and knee, while
remaining in front of the public on numerous television programs.
On November 17, 2005 at the University of Havana, Fidel Castro asked the
rhetorical question whether revolutions inexorably collapse. He further
asked whether revolutions fell because of actions on the part of
revolutionaries, or because of their failure to act. He urged the students
to initiate a discussion on such matters. "Have you thought about this?
Have you thought deeply about it?" The collapse of the revolution, he
noted, has been envisioned by the United States as the immediate
consequence of his own death. "They are waiting for a natural phenomena,
totally logical, that is the death of someone." But, he commented, "we
have taken measures and precautions so that there will be no surprises. And
everyone will know what to do in such a case." He went on to note that one
has to study the history of revolutions and arrive at the proper
conclusions as to what to do. Meanwhile, others within the revolutionary
ranks were already talking about the possibility of a Cuba without Fidel
The following month, December 23, 2005, Cuban foreign minister Felipe Pérez
Roque outlined the necessity of taking necessary steps to preserve the
equivalent of the historical memory of the revolutionary founders. The
enemy, he suggested, was betting that the next generation would not have a
On July 1, 2006, Raúl Castro noted that a succession in Cuba would not
imply a search for another charismatic leader. Instead, he indicated, there
would be a collective leadership [dirección colectiva] made up of national
leaders from within the Communist Party:
"We are confronting an enemy whose stubbornness and arrogance frequently
leads it to make mistakes, but that doesn't mean that it is a fool. It
knows that the special trust that the people have in the founding leader of
a Revolution can not be transmitted as if it was an inheritance, to those
that in the future will be occupying the main leadership positions of the
country. I repeat what I have said on many occasions: The
Commander-in-Chief of the Cuban Revolution is one and only one, and only
the Communist Party, the institution that groups the revolutionary vanguard
and guarantees Cubans unity during all times, can be the dignified heir of
the trust deposited by the people in its leader. We are working for that,
and that's how it will be. The rest is pure speculation."
Raúl Castro was reacting to a forthcoming report prepared by the US
government appointed Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba (CAFC), an
organization co-chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and
Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez. Appended to the report was a
lengthy secret annex, which was a plan to overthrow the Cuban government,
the Cuban government seems to have known. Political analyst Mike Leffert
"From its first words, the report, beginning with Chapter 1: Hastening the
End of the Castro Dictatorship: Transition Not Succession leaves no room
for doubt about the intent and aim of US policy. A July 10 State Department
briefing hammered home the point that the US planned to intervene,
"provided," said Secretary Gutierrez, "we are asked by a Cuban transition
government that is committed to dismantling all instruments of state
repression and implementing internationally respected human rights and
fundamental freedoms, including organizing free and fair elections for a
democratically elected new Cuban government within a period of no more than
At a Central Committee meeting of the Communist Party, on July 1st, 2006,
the Secretariat was restored. This was another move to strengthen the
Communist Party and further prepare the conditions for a succession. The
Secretariat had been abolished in 1992 when Cuba entered the economic
crisis known as "the special period" due to the collapse of the Soviet
bloc. The Secretariat's functions had been to deal with matters internal to
the Communist Party. Bringing the structure back meant paying more
attention to the party membership, and the Secretariat was to pay special
attention to party members with a workers' background and from outside
Havana. Three of the 12 members (Fidel, Raúl, and José Ramón Machado
Ventura) were "históricos" going back to the 1950s struggle; the rest had
an average age of 50. All the new members had a university education.
Twenty-six days later Fidel Castro had to undergo complex intestinal
surgery. The news of the surgery was kept secret until July 31st. In a
document issued to the Cuban people, Fidel Castro provided some general
descriptions of the problem he faced. But little details were provided. The
following day, in a second statement, he explained why details would not be
forthcoming, "Given the specific situation facing Cuba and the plans
designed by the empire, the information about my health condition becomes a
state secret that can not be continuously disseminated; and my compatriots
should understand that." He then noted that he had to delegate some of his
powers "due to the fact that our country faces a threat from the Government
of the United States." The document stated:
1) I provisionally delegate my functions as First Secretary of the Central
Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba to the Second Secretary, comrade
Raúl Castro Ruz.
2) I provisionally delegate my functions as Commander-in-Chief of the
heroic Revolutionary Armed Forces to the aforementioned comrade, Army
General Raúl Castro Ruz.
3) I provisionally delegate my functions as President of the Council of
State and Government of the Republic of Cuba to the First Vice-President
Raúl Castro Ruz.
4) I provisionally delegate my functions as the main driving force behind
the National and International Public Health Program to the member of the
Politburo and Minister of Public Health, comrade José Ramón Balaguer
5) I provisionally delegate my functions as the main driving force behind
the National and International Education Program to comrades José Ramón
Machado Ventura and Esteban Lazo Hernández, members of the Politburo.
6) I provisionally delegate my functions as the main driving force behind
the National Energy Revolution Program being implemented in Cuba and abroad
as part of a scheme of collaboration with other countries to comrade Carlos
Lage Dávila, member of the Politburo and Secretary of the Executive
Committee of the Council of Ministers.
This was not, as was widely reported, a "transfer of power," although in
practice it could, and did, become so. Fidel Castro delegated his functions
provisionally. Further, Cuban laws and codes required that at some point
the Communist Party Congress and the National Assembly ratify the authority
of his successors. For his principal functions, there was no other
significant contender besides his brother, Raúl Castro.
The practical side of political succession has been a central concern of
the Cuban government and of Fidel Castro's leadership.
The very fact that the United States government and the exiled opposition
has counted on the charismatic leader's death to bring about a political
and economic restoration to the island has been more than sufficient
incentive for Fidel Castro to have taken the necessary institutional steps
to secure the revolutionary regime's survival. The critical issue has been
whether succession would be smooth and peaceful without domestic or
external upheaval. It seems to have been understood by everyone who dealt
with the problem that the fundamental strategic element would be a
political/military leadership able to preserve cohesion and unity.
Moreover, it was in the interest of those with power and authority to work
together, particularly at a time when there was such a clear and present
danger from abroad.
The revolutionary movement against Batista had Fidel Castro as its
political and military leader. However, in the early months when the
revolutionaries were in power, neither Fidel Castro nor his brother held
numerous or interlocking positions within the Cuban government and state.
Fidel Castro and others progressively assumed more administrative and state
responsibilities as the international and domestic confrontation unfolded.
In the early years, the two Castro brothers arrived at a unique division of
labor. One handled political matters, the other military ones. But either
was competent to assume both roles, if necessary, at exceptional times.
Political practice and necessity evolved into an informal network of
interlocking but separate powers and responsibilities occupied by both
brothers and their appointed close comrades. Indeed, both Fidel and Raúl
have being capable of assuming each other's formal roles. Foreign observers
have just paid attention to Fidel Castro's public speaking and had little
to say about the running of government, thus, missing the brothers' real
Although people expected that a succession would occur after the death of
Fidel Castro, a de facto succession has occurred while he was sick but
On July 31, 2006, the power and authority held by Fidel Castro within the
Council of State, the Council of Ministers and the Communist Party were
provisionally delegated to Raúl Castro. Other responsibilities were
delegated to others.
There had been no doubt who would occupy what post. The Cuban constitution
established it, as did the Communist Party statutes. What we may have, for
a while, is a sort of post-Fidel Castro Cuba, but with Fidel still alive.
The "succession" that has taken place leaves no doubt that Raúl Castro is
and will remain in command.
Seventeen months from the day he delegated his powers to his brother, on
December 17, 2007, in one of his numerous essays published by the Cuban
media, Fidel Castro wrote, "My elemental duty is not to cling to positions,
much less to stand in the way of younger persons, but rather to contribute
my own experience and ideas whose modest value comes from the exceptional
era that I had the privilege of living in." He was preparing the Cuban
people for the events that would unfold two months later.
An extraordinary event occurred on February 18, 2008, when Fidel Castro
announced that he was not interested in continuing to hold any power within
the Council of Ministers, the Council of State, or as Commander in Chief.
In a peaceful and orderly manner, the historical charismatic leader who had
created the institutions of the Cuban state and ran them, withdrew,
allowing others to manage those institutions. Few observers had imagined
that he would do so during his lifetime.
The political succession will be finalized on February 24, 2008.
Responsible positions in state and government will no longer be in the
hands of Fidel Castro. This disengagement was [and is] a complicated
process, and Fidel Castro said as much: "my first duty was to prepare our
people both politically and psychologically for my absence after so many
years of struggle."
In the past, Fidel Castro had formal control of the commanding heights of
the state: the government, the military and the Communist Party. Today
Fidel continues to have formal control and leadership over the Communist
Party, although he has delegated such power to his brother. One should
expect that in the future Fidel Castro might forfeit that power as well. At
that point, it would be up to the Central Committee of the Communist Party
to decide who replaces the historical revolutionary leader.
But not yet. As in Ecclesiastes III, "there is a time to keep, and a time
to cast away." The moment has been selected by the old man to attain its
maximum benefits. Once he no longer has political powers, Fidel Castro will
be left with his intellectual authority, and his personal example. Those
qualities should accompany him to the end of his life.
Then he could declare like José Martí: "para mi ya es hora." Now it's time
for me to go.
Nelson P Valdés is a Professor of Sociology at the University of New
He is also the director of the Cuba-L Direct project, a daily news and
analysis distribution service. Some portions of this essay appear in "Ther
Revolutionary and Political Content of Fidel castro's Charismatic
Authority," in Philip Brenner, Marguerite Rose Jimenez, John M. Kirk and
William M. LeoGrande, A Contemporary Cuyba Reader, Rowman & Littlefield
Publishers, Inc. The present essay benefitted from the suggestions and
comments of my good friend Ned Sublette.
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