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Fidel Castro's Days Numbered? áby Nolan B. Canova
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Nolan's Pop Culture Review
Established A.D. 2000, March 19. Now in our seventh calendar year!
Number 332  (Vol. 7, No. 31). This edition is for the week of July 31--August 6, 2006.


Fidel Castro's Days Numbered?
Is recent surgery an indicator of dictator's imminent demise?


By Nolan B. Canova


At the time of this writing, Cuban President Fidel Castro, 79, has announced he is recovering and is stable following critical abdominal surgery. A few days ago, the situation seemed very bleak for the communist dictator, as for the first time ever, he ceded his presidential power to another individual, in this case, his brother, Raul, 75. It was presumed he did so in case he did not survive the surgery.

When news he was temporarily no longer in power reached the U.S., parties broke out and much celebration ensued among exiled Cubans, particularly in the "Little Havana" area of Miami. It may seem grisly to be celebrating a despot's imminent demise, but many Cubans living in the U.S. still have families on the island that for many were difficult if not impossible to visit due to hostilities between the two countries.

A super-quick history lesson
Fidel Castro came to power during the revolution of January 1959 when he and his band of guerillas overthrew the government of Fulgencio Batista. For some time afterward there was talk of open elections and some frail form of democracy, but the state exerted increasing control over business and media. Initially attempting to become friendly with the U.S., Castro became much cozier with the Russian President, Nikita Khrushchev, who gave him economic and military aid. Castro continued to nationalize corporations and expropriate privately-owned land. Provoked by Castro once too often, President Dwight D. Eisenhower broke off U.S. relations with Cuba in 1961.

After President John F. Kennedy's failed Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow Castro, Castro declared in a broadcast speech that he was a Marxist-Leninist and that Cuba was adopting Communism. On February 7, 1962, the US imposed an embargo against Cuba. This embargo was broadened during 1962 and 1963, including a general travel ban for American tourists. Tension reached an all-time high during October, 1962 when Soviet missles were discovered on the island nation. The world teetered on the brink of nuclear war for nearly two weeks until President Kennedy faced down Nikita Khrushchev and the missles were removed from Cuba. (Actually there was a mutual agreement that involved removing U.S. missles from Turkey, but that was classified at the time.)

That's pretty much the way it stood until the fall of Russia in 1989. Castro's financial support gone, economic hardships brought the country to the brink several times until the U.S. embargo was relaxed somewhat during the '90s. Despite consistently negative relations with the U.S., Fidel Castro has outlasted 9 U.S. presidents.

And despite the sometimes bleak picture dissidents paint of life in Communist Cuba, the leader enjoys popular support from his people (a major reason--though not the only one--the Bay of Pigs invasion failed is the US expectancy for a revolt was overestimated).

Raul
According to most commentators I've heard who specialize in Cuban history, Fidel's brother, Raul, while temporarily in power, is not expected to remain there even if Fidel expires. (A current conspiracy theory states the Cuban leader has, in fact, already expired, and the surgery talk is a smokescreen. I don't believe this is true.) While Raul has his own reputation as Fidel's "hitman" (earned primarily during the revolution's early years), he himself is 75 years old and not in the best of health. Further, that he is NOT the leader Fidel is, and while oppressive propoganda will ensure cooperation among the military and population for a while.......another revolution may be around the corner.

The future of Cuba?
I've often joked that while Raul Castro may not want a Ford Bronco and an HD widescreen TV, his successor most likely will. Already, land developers and cruise line managers are salivating over the possibility that Cuba may, once again, be a prime target for renewal once it's communist government finally falls and relations are restored. Havana could go back to being the little Las Vegas it once was (although likely without the mob overtones), and the native people can experience the corruptive thrill of gainful employment and unbridled capitalism. Umm....that's a good thing, right? Tours along the beaches, through the mountains and free sample cigars! (Will Wal-Mart fit into Revolution Square?)


All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ę2006 by Nolan B. Canova.


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