Yesterday, Cuba began a five-month transition period that is likely to end the Castro dynasty and make way for elections at the local, provincial, and national levels.
The first phase of the transition will take place during September, where small groups of Cubans will nominate municipal representatives at the local level.
After this, a government-linked commission will select all candidates for election at the provincial and national levels, including the national assembly. the national assembly is expected to choose both the president and the members of the Council of State by February.
Although President Raul Castro has stated that he is leaving the presidency, it is unclear at this time to what extent he will be involved in the new government of Cuba. Many expect him to remain as the head of the Communist Party, where he would certainly retain his status as a major player in Cuban politics.
But despite the change in direction, many Cubans and outside observers view the elections as an empty exercise. After all, no party is permitted to campaign or endorse candidates for election in Cuba. Instead, elected assemblies vote on candidates on an individual referendum basis, meaning that the ruling party has the power to keep that power consolidated in the hands of other party members.
With Castro likely retaining his spot at the head of the Communist Party, it is possible that he could still hold heavy influence over Cuban politics by selecting candidates with whom he and the Communist Party are most aligned.
But even though some critics and members of opposing parties see this coming change as an empty gesture, it is a change nonetheless – a change from the almost 60 years of Castro-dominated politics in Cuba. Even if he remains the head of the Communist Party, he will still be once removed from the position that allowed him to exert his political power to its fullest extent.
The man expected to take Castro’s place is current First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, a career politician for the Communist Party. Not outspoken by any means, Diaz-Canel’s low profile makes him a good candidate for a controversial election.
But recently, a leaked appearance at a private Communist Party event has caused a bit of a stir in Cuba. In the video, Diaz-Canel discusses opposition groups trying to win in the coming elections, saying “We’re taking all possible steps to discredit that,” and “We’re involved in this whole process.” The source of the video is unclear, but could be an intentional leak, as leaks of this kind are extremely rare in Cuba. According to Mexico-based Cuban political scientist Armando Chaguaceda, “It could serve to send a signal of official intentions not to create any political opening, without being an official government statement.”
To what extent the Castro family’s political domination of the country remains in the years to come is yet to be seen. But whatever the outcome of these elections, Castro domination of Cuba will soon be a thing of the past.