With only nine months before General Raúl Castro steps down as president of Cuba and hands over power to a new leader, almost everyone on the island, and throughout the world, is quite sure about who it will be: the current first vice-president of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers Miguel Díaz-Canel.
Of course, in politics what is predicted does not necessarily come to pass. Very different scenarios, not foreseen by anyone, could arise. For example, if the chavista dictatorship falls in Venezuela, the economic and political crisis that this would trigger in Cuba could make it very difficult for a civilian to become president. Rather, it would likely be one of the 15 patricios who make up the Military Junta that really calls the shots in the country.
Although Mariela Castro, the dictator's daughter, hinted in Spain that there could be a "surprise" in February of 2018, so far everything seems to indicate that Díaz-Canel will, in fact, be the new head of state, even though he does not form part of Castroism's military elite. What real power will he have?
The media and rulers around the world believe that in February 2018 Raúl Castro will step down. They assume that, as with "normal" dictators who have been presidents of their countries, in Cuba when Castro leaves the Government his successor will be another dictator, or have powers to initiate something like perestroika or other profound changes on the Island.
Big mistake. First, the Castro dictatorship is not "normal" or traditional, but Communist, which is something very different. The Cuban Constitution (which was modeled on the Soviets') states that the highest authority in the Republic is not the Council of State, its president or the head of the Government, but rather the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). Thus, constitutionally at least, the highest authority on the island is the First Secretary of the PCC.
The military, in command
Secondly, Fidel Castro never accepted —like in the USSR and other Communist countries— the Party really being above the military. His megalomania clashed with this Marxist-Leninist principle and turned him, as commander-in-chief, into a Caribbean version of Louis XIV: "L'Etat, c'est moi". He was the State.
That is, the commander-in-chief is the dictator, assisted by a Military Junta composed of 15 generals, colonels and commanders, Castroism's crème de la crème. If anyone doubts whether the military is actually in charge in Cuba, they can be sure it is, as every dictatorship is based on force, and is militaristic by its very nature. It is always governed by a strong man, who is, obviously, a military man, surrounded by generals who fawn over and flatter him to promote their own interests. And if they put a civilian at the head, he's just a pawn of the military chief.
Raúl Castro has taken the regime's military fixation even further, even placing the military in direct control of the economy. This is a defect that will affect the civilian Diaz-Canel if the Constitution is not amended.
He cannot be the dictator constitutionally, but he will be the commander-in-chief of the FAR (armed forces), a position that corresponds to the head of state, according to the current constitution. That is, a civilian would be the supreme commander of the three armies, the Air Force, the Navy, counterintelligence and intelligence.
The Castro brothers did not think of this when in February of 1976 they enacted the current Constitution, in their own likeness and image. At that time Fidel was 49 and Raúl was 45, and both saw themselves at the head of the public power per secula seculorum. But the older brother died, and the younger one just turned 86, and is going to resign as Head of State.
A civilian as commander-in-chief?
No matter what the Constitution says, in every military autocracy the most powerful figure is the commander-in-chief. But, as of February Cuba will feature an unprecedented scenario if a civilian is the new supreme commander of the FAR. To date the posts of president, party Head and commander-in-chief have always been concentrated in one person: Fidel, and then Raúl.
Faced with such an institutional flaw, three different things could happen: 1) A meeting of the National Assembly of the People's Power could suddenly be called to amend the Constitution 2) General Castro could take the country back to the era when Osvaldo Dorticós was a token head of state, with no real power (3) One of the younger members of the military junta could be elected president, and replace the first secretary of the PCC in 2021, or when Castro II so decides, or dies.
The amendment of the Constitution could consist of shifting the leadership of the FAR from the president to an all-powerful, Chinese-style military commission, answering to the Political Bureau and the first secretary. In reference to the second option, let us remember that Dorticós was a figure for protocol purposes, a sham, charged with receiving credentials from ambassadors, attending public events to give them a certain political and state level, signing laws imposed by Fidel, and representing Cuba internationally.
But there is an important difference: in Dorticós's time the Fundamental Law, written by Castro I in February of 1959, replaced the Constitution of 1940 and placed the prime minister as the head of the government, over the president.
Now another Constitution is in force, and it assigns the supreme leadership of the FAR to the head of state. Fidel and Raúl thought they were immortal. That is, if there is no constitutional amendment Díaz-Canel would, formally, be the commander-in-chief.
The head of the government without being the first secretary of the PCC?
On top of this, there would be another political-institutional fiasco to solve. For the first time in the history of Castroism, the first secretary of the PCC, Cuba's "number one" under the Constitution, would not be the head of the government.
The new president would not be the dictator, but he would be the president of the Council of Ministers. This would go beyond what the pharaoh and his generals could abide. One doesn´t need to be a genius to foresee that Castro II will issue a stern warning to the new president: "You know, Miguelito, you're not really the boss of anything. This is all for show. I'm still in charge here."
In short, Díaz-Canel, to put it like Homer in The Iliad, does not have the areté (excellence) to be a dictator. They are not going to let him serve as commander-in-chief. He won't be able to give orders to a corporal. Neither will he be really the head of the government.
Therefore, rather than being the Mikhail Gorbachev that many would like to see usher in change in Cuba, the projected new president seems poised to emulate Dorticós, no matter what the Constitution says. After all, on the Island everyone called him "president," even though they all knew he really wasn't.