The only son of Raúl Castro's four children, Alejandro, does not need, as some believe, to be President of the Council of State, nor a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party, nor to boast the rank of general.
With his father alive, he has more than that, as his father’s darling son and right-hand man, and as a key member of the all-powerful military Junta that calls the shots in Cuba – to which Miguel Díaz-Canel, by the way, does not belong. And, as if that were not enough, as Coordinator of the Intelligence and Counterintelligence Services, Castro III is the Cuban Fouché, the man most feared by military officialdom.
In fact, today this 52-year colonel is the most powerful man in Cuba, after his father. A phone call from him is even scarier for Castroist elites, whether civil or military, than one from Machado Ventura, Cuba’s vice-dictator, as the Second Secretary of the Communist Party (PCC).
His father wants his son to replace him, but not as President, a position that is worth little, but rather as First Secretary of the PCC, in 2021, which would, constitutionally, render him a dictator.
The general argues that this is no whim of his, North Korea-style, to perpetuate the dynasty, but rather that Alejandro is young and capable, and bears the name of Fidel, the eternal leader of the Revolution. In other words, that his son legitimates the continuation of Castroism. And he may dream that it will only survive if his son Alejandro’s son (born to Marietta Calis Lauzurica), in turn, succeeds him.
At the 7th Congress of the PCC, in April of 2016, General Castro announced that the age limit to sit on the Party's Central Committee would be 60, and that for top leaders it would be 70. That change was made with his son in mind, and not precisely as president. But 2021 is three years away, during which many things could happen; Castro II could pass away, for example, leaving Castro III up the creek.
Provisional "daddy's boy"
Alejandro has a problem: his political and state omnipotence depends solely on his blood ties to the dictator, who turns 87 in June. That is, it doesn't look like he's going to savor that power much longer.
On his own, as an official, or cuadro (in the Castroist terminology), Castro Espín lacks a record. Nor does he enjoy support among the regime's generals, or the dictatorial regime's civil elite. And his resume is weak.
The Castroist elite's top generals, many bearing wounds from African wars, would hardly be willing to take orders from an upstart with no military experience, and serious problems communicating with and relating to others, just because he is his father's son. On top of all this, he is known for his intellectual mediocrity.
That is, Castro Espín does not have anything going for him vis-a-vis the military class, or the country's civil leadership, and far less with everyday Cubans, who simply are not familiar with him.
But, with Castro Ruz alive, he still has his all-important benefactor. He somehow boasts the rank of colonel, despite his lack of competence, or the size of the stars on his epaulettes, which confuses people, and is why many see him as a potential successor to Castro II, as President, in April.
It is true that, as his father's son and President he would wield great power. And, although with Castroism nothing is inconceivable, without a sufficient political background Raúl Castro is unlikely to impose his son as head of State in two months. What the general wants is, when he steps down from the Government, for the country to return to the old times of token leaders, like Osvaldo Dorticós, and for Alejandro, then better prepared, to be the next dictator, in 2021.
A figurehead president
Whether it is Miguel Díaz-Canel, Bruno Rodríguez, General Alvaro López Miera, or another high-ranking civil or military official, the new head of state will have little power.
The bets so far are on Díaz-Canel, who is not part of the all-powerful military Junta. He has no power, nor will any other new President, because it will continue to he hoarded by Raúl Castro, more protected than ever by his generals. Under Castroism civilians have never really been in charge.
The new president will only be a kind of administrator and figurehead. He will be held up to the world as proof of the renewal and transfer of power at the top of the Cuban regime, as many in Latin America and the European Union are already prone to believe.
This is the way things stand as long as Castro II is alive. But, what if he dies? Many things could happen. Precisely in order to prevent those that would be undesirable for him, he wants Alejandro to succeed him.
As the strongman has decided to not withdraw from the PCC until 2021 (unless he dies, or changes his mind) it is worth stressing that some political scientists' portrait of Castro II as a more pragmatic and realistic leader than other traditional hardliners is not accurate.
Not even close. In fact, Raúl and Machado Ventura head up the most backward-looking political wing of the dictatorship. And Castro Espín, despite being young and lacking the nostalgia of the old-timers, is also as reactionary, or even more so, than his father.
Castro II's only visible sign of “pragmatism” could not be more discouraging: he wants the Armed Forces to completely control the country's life, particularly the economy. To this end, logically, he can count on the support of the military, who increasingly benefit from perks and privileges. Could a new President, a puppet of the dictator and the military Junta, counter this?
Generals, colonels and their family members already control 70% of the national economy, and are trained as managers of the industries and activities that are profitable, or could be, then becoming their definitive owners, as in Russia.
Without new leadership, there will be no change
Raúl's compass, militaristic to the bone, points toward a form of militarized state capitalism, with Chinese, Russian and fascist characteristics, but without permitting the development of a large private sector, which already generates 70% of China's Gross Domestic Product. The capitalists would be the military, and part of the civil bureaucracy, answering to them, not the self-employed.
Meanwhile, lots of sticks and few carrots for everyday Cubans. In this devious project there is no place for the essential political changes needed by the nation, which, with its Venezuelan backer in crisis, is worse off than ever, economically and socially.
The changes will not be initiated by Díaz-Canel, or any other new president. For change to happen they all must leave the stage: the current Castros, and the military and civilian establishment currently in power, and give way to new leadership. In the former Communist countries changes to the system were carried out by new, reform-minded leaders, not officials tied to the their dreadful Communist pasts, or stained with blood, like Raúl Castro and his predatory caste.
The perestroika that brought an end to the Socialist camp was not initiated by Leonid Brezhnev, or Konstantin Chernenko, but rather by Mikhail Gorbachev. Cuba will be no exception. But, for this to happen, the regime must feel itself to be under great pressure, from both inside the country and out.
To better explain the question posed in the title: Alejandro Castro does not have to be President, because he has more power in the background, as his father's right hand. As counter-intelligence czar, everyone fears him, which he likes, for it satiates his appetite for repression.