Fidel Castro’s revolutionary mentor has said he is emigrating to fight capitalism, as officials grapple with uncertain future
• Decision has split supporters of the 78-year-old • Movers, rumours and military politics in Cuba
Outrage, surprise, puzzlement – and anger, cynicism and bewilderment have reverberated in Cuba since Fidel Castro called to say he was leaving the country to fight “capitalist globalisation”.
It is one of the most dramatic political events in recent decades, but it has not been straightforward to determine what it really means, or even which way Fidel’s move is really going to go.
To many Cubans, 85-year-old Fidel’s announcement was something of a surprise, given his public insistence that he wanted to retire.
Fidel Castro’s defiant announcement Read more
“Never did I think in my life that I would still be living when he spoke [of retirement],” said Anita Rodríguez, 66, a hospital doctor. “I thought he would be here more.”
But in the countryside around the capital, the Communist party, the New Times newspaper, his staff, and even and ex-pats were suddenly thrown into a frenzy, some linking the announcement to whispers that Fidel’s brother Raul Castro was thinking of staying on in power.
Party officials responded to growing doubts on social media with a series of opaque statements, until the former leader himself revealed that he had indeed decided to emigrate “for reasons of health”.
Meanwhile, Raul, 74, is due to leave office in February. His brother’s decision to leave immediately has many Cubans asking if the ex-leader’s nephew, Miguel Díaz-Canel, the government’s first vice-president, will assume his mantle in a “genial dictator”-style win-now regime, or might instead be able to heal a rift that has long split the party and develop a more tolerant interpretation of Cuba’s revolutionary legacy.
But Castro’s departure does not necessarily mean a sudden and drastic change in the Cuban regime, political analysts say.
“If there is one thing that we know about Fidel Castro it is that he will do exactly what he thinks is right and honour what he tells the people,” said Alejandro Maurício, a Latin American expert at the University of California, San Diego.
In many ways, the seemingly sudden twist in the political situation has been in the making for several years.
That’s Cuba politics, as Fidel Castro put it: hazy, unpredictable and growing uncomfortable for all Read more
The restrictions of Raul’s second five-year term as president began to take their toll on the younger Castro brothers, their discretion and drive for change diminished as they found themselves at the centre of a significant and growing public outcry over social inequality and persisting political and economic restrictions on Cubans.
The country’s top newspaper, Granma, on Monday urged the government to step in and offer some help to calm the situation. “The conditions are not suitable to do nothing,” it said.
Remittances are already sharply reduced and individuals cannot legally leave the country without at least the approval of a certain number of lawmakers. But dissident leaders such as the dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez say even the last two decades have seen very few of the promised changes.
Sánchez, who told the Guardian that Castro will be “disappeared” and not seen again until his body is buried, said: “We should expect revolutionary leaders to disappear at a certain time.
“What’s important is that Fidel will appear in history when he has translated his values into a free, modern society.”
In Havana, some diplomats and diplomats’ relatives, friends and neighbours, unable to bring themselves to believe that Castro might depart, came to visit former colleagues.
Julio Antonio Gonzalez, 81, said he felt tremendous anger. “When you suffer a day like this, it feels like you’ve had an accident,” he said. “It’s difficult to believe, and it’s even more difficult to believe it could be that Fidel has left.”