It is a shame that the rules at the organization that drafts and updates the Guinness Book of World Records do not include certain ones in the political and social sphere that could be more astonishing than many others appearing in the book.
In Cuba, at least four absolute world records have been set that should appear in such a famous compendium of records. In no particular order, we have Fidel Castro, who –without being an emperor, king, prince, or caliph– remained in power for the longest: 52 years, three months, and 18 days.
Then there is his brother, General Raúl Castro, who, as a professional politician (not a monarch), has been president, vice-president, and head of the Communist Party, remaining in power for 61 consecutive years. Castro II has also served as Defense Minister for 49 consecutive years, while simultaneously being the country's vice president, these representing more records.
But the most striking Castroist record of all, and that which it will be the most difficult to ever match, is that Cuba's political leadership constitutes the oldest such cadre in human history.
A fifth, additional record belongs to José Ramón "El Gallego" Fernández, who served as a government minister for 40 consecutive years (1972-2012), including 34 years as vice-president of the nation, before he passed away in 2019 at the age of 95. He served as a minister from the age of 49 to 89.
The average age of those at the top of Cuba's power structure: 89
It is an aberration that the upper echelons of political power in Cuba, comprised of the three most powerful “historic” commanders from the Sierra Maestra days (those who really govern, as opposed to the figureheads in the Constitution) sum, between the three of them, 267 years.
Dictator Raúl Castro will turn 89 in June, José Ramón Machado Ventura will turn 90 in October, and Ramiro Valdés is already 88. In other words, 89 is the average age of Cuba's most powerful leaders. There has never been anything quite like it in the history of civilization. In this case we do not need to qualify our observations with "in modern history", because in more remote times life expectancy was far lower than today.
And that is not all: in no monarchy, empire or caliphate was there ever, simultaneously, an 89-year-old king, a 90-year-old prime minister, and an 88-year-old secretary of state (the "monarchical equivalents" of Castro II, Machado and Ramiro). Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain is 94 years old and has reigned for 68 years, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson is 56, years old and First Secretary of State Dominic Raab is 46. King Louis XIV of France died at age 79, after reigning for 72 years, but his prime ministers did not grow to be very old: Cardinal Mazarin died at 59, Jean Baptiste Colbert, at 64; and the Marquis de Louvois, at 50.
In Cuba, in contrast, several of the main guerrilla leaders of those who in January 1959 seized power together with the Castros, continue to wield power 61 years later, prevailing over the Communist Party, the Government, the State and the National Assembly.
These "historic" leaders, from 1959, are still in command 61 years later
They comprise a military junta that, headed by the dictator, is the supreme authority on the island, despite the fact that Article 5 of the Constitution claims: "The Communist Party is the ultimate guiding political power of society and the State."
Of course, the world treats Miguel Díaz-Canel as Cuba's head of state and "number one", and believes that there is actually a prime minister and a cabinet that governs, a foreign minister that handles foreign policy, and that Esteban Lazo is the president of the legislature.
A gross error. These are second-rung leaders, subordinated to that group of soldiers, which includes generals who are not as old, but who are not "historics". One of them is Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, military companies’ tsar, because he is the father of the dictator's favorite grandson. The heads of the three armies are not "historics" either.
The non-historic members of the Political Bureau cannot make any key decisions in Cuba either, unless they have been approved by the leaders of the Military Junta – which is invisible, has no physical and institutional embodiment, and does not even exist, on paper. Rather, it acts behind the scenes, in the shadows.
The above-mentioned almighty trio are followed, in terms of real political/military power, by the former "historic" guerrillas and, today, three-star generals Leopoldo Cintras Frías, minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FAR (79); Alvaro López Miera (77), first deputy minister of the FAR and chief of the General Staff; Joaquín Quintas Solá (82) and Ramón Espinosa (81).
Other veteran members of this very exclusive elite are Commander José R. Balaguer (88), Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez’s boss; General Ulises Rosales del Toro (78); Commander Guillermo García Frías, (92); and General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, (81).
These 11 generals and commanders constitute Castroism's historic, supreme creme de la creme, their combined ages summing almost a millennium: 925 years. The average age of the "Council of Elders" that governs in Cuba is 84.
Fidel Castro once mocked the Soviet Union's "old men"
In contrast, the average age of the main Communist leaders in China, Vietnam and North Korea is under 70. In the Soviet Union and other European Communist countries, it never exceeded 73 or 74. The oldest were the nations’ leaders, but Stalin died at 75; Mao, at 83; Ho Chi Mihn, at 79; and Kim Il Sung, at 82. None of them reached 90, or even 89, like the Castros.
The ironic aspect of this is that, until the early 1980s, Fidel Castro and his entire cadre of leaders used to make fun of the "old men" heading governments and parties in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, Vietnam, Mongolia and North Korea.
There are witnesses (this journalist among them) to how the caudillo used to laugh at the ripe ages of these leaders and "friends", and to how he was concerned that the death of Leonid Brezhnev (in 1982) would lead to his replacement by Mikhail Suslov, the second-in-command at the Kremlin, because he had been the architect of the Communist Party since Stalin's time. According to Castro, Suslov, at age 79, was too old to take office. Eventually Suslov died and the "young" Yuri Andropov, 68, was tapped for the position.
The way things are going, though the Covid-19 pandemic may be controlled on the island at some point, there will be changes – and not those that are already "planned" by the dictator, who announced that in 2021 he would step down as head of the PCC, and that his replacement would probably be Díaz-Canel. That slated change would be a farce, in any case, as the general will remain the chief of chiefs for as long as he lives ("in his own right", he would say) and continue to be surrounded by his Military Junta.
However, after the devastating impact that Covid-19 will have on the Cuban economy and society, already a certainty, the changes could be other ones, and inevitable, since these "historic" elders will no longer have the physical or mental capacity to avert them.
For now, it is important that the world community realise not only how these aged commanders have made their compatriots suffer for six decades, and impoverished the country, dragging it down to African levels, but also the disastrous records they have set at the international level.