At long last, it appears that Cuba’s decades-long and horrifically oppressive communist dictatorship may be nearing its end.
On Friday, April 16, Raul Castro, the brother of and successor to Cuban communist dictator Fidel Castro, surprised the world by announcing that he would be resigning as the head of the Cuban Communist Party.
Since Cuba has lived under communist rule since the 1950s, it’s unclear what exactly this will mean for the future of the island nation. It may mean the possibility of freedom for the Cuban people, or it may mean a future of even worse repression than what they have hitherto experienced.
It is not yet clear what will happen.
The End of the Castro Dynasty
Fidel Castro had originally taken over Cuba and subjected it to communism in 1959 after he and the guerrilla fighters under his command ousted U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. During Castro’s reign of terror, Cuba went from being one of the richest nations in the western hemisphere — and a popular vacation spot for wealthy Americans — to one of the very poorest.
Cubans were subjected to many of the same horrors and indignities that all people unfortunate enough to live in communist nations have been subjected to: mass murder, forced labor camps, extreme poverty and chronic and persistent economic disfunction.
Castro survived numerous assassination attempts by the CIA over the course of the Cold War and retained control of Cuba until he stepped down on April 19, 2011.
Castro eventually died in 2016. After stepping down, he was succeeded by his brother Raul. However, exactly 10 years to the day after Fidel Castro’s resignation, Raul Castro has done the same.
The successor to the Castro dynasty is Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez, a longtime Castro loyalist. Given Diaz-Canel’s connections to the Castros, skepticism about whether his ascension to power means meaningful change for the Cuban people is certainly warranted.
However, there is a fierce generational divide within the country. Older Cubans — or at any rate, those among them who have not fled the country and now live in Florida — feel nostalgia for what they take to be the glory days of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.
The young, on the other hand, have been chafing under the yoke of communism and long for meaningful change. They know well that the non-communist world enjoys a level of material prosperity that has been denied to them, and they deeply resent this.
“Nothing, nothing, nothing is forcing me to make this decision,” Raul Castro said to the Cuban Communist Congress in reference to his decision to resign. “As long as I live, I will be ready with my foot in the stirrup to defend the homeland, the revolution and socialism with more force than ever.”
Though there have been some mild reforms in Cuba that have eased economic restrictions, they have not been nearly enough to loosen the hold on power of the ruling elite nor to make a meaningful difference in the lives of most Cubans.
And though Diaz-Canel is younger, he has served at the behest of the Castros all his life.
Still, the fact that some shakeups are happening does provide a glimmer of hope that the Cuban people may eventually rid themselves of communism forever.