Oct. 4 (UPI) -- In a few days, the Cuban government will implement significant changes to its political system that, instead of marking the end of its 60-year dictatorship, can serve as a much needed lifeline. These changes are the result of the approval of a new Constitution in February of 2019.
On Thursday, the unicameral and single-party National Assembly of People's Power, which serves as the country's legislature, will convene in an Extraordinary Session to select the country's president, vice president and members of the Council of State. This new system differs from the current system, in place since the imposition of Cuba's 1976 Constitution, under which the official titles of Cuba's head of state and government was president of the Council of State and of Ministers. This position was held by Fidel Castro (1976-2008) and Raúl Castro (2011-18). Since 2018, this post has been held by Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermudez, whose title was changed earlier this year to that of president of the republic.
Cuba's seemingly new political model is really not that new. Upon coming to power in 1959, Fidel Castro set up a semi-presidential dictatorship, under which he held firm control of the government as prime minister while placing nominal loyalists as figurehead presidents (Manuel Urrutia Lleó in 1959 and Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado from 1959 until 1976). Under the new Constitution, the president will appoint a prime minister, essentially dividing the positions of head of state and head of government.
The Cuban dictatorship's eagerness to change its political system reflects its need for survival. To the outside world, the regime hopes that these cosmetic changes can represent its political will to rejoin the society of nations. Domestically, the regime has increased repression in recent months and has cemented a military oligarchy over the Cuban economy. The result is a rebranding of the Western Hemisphere's longest dictatorship from one run by olive green-clad barbudos (bearded men) to one led by generals in guayaberas.
Cuba's leadership change offers two likely scenarios:
Scenario 1: Díaz-Canel remains as president (or is replaced by another technocrat), and a member of the Castro dynasty is appointed prime minister. The likeliest Castro to inherit the family's dynastic control is Alejandro Castro Espín. The only son of Raúl Castro, Castro Espín holds the rank of colonel in Cuba's Ministry of the Interior, in charge of repression against the island's opposition. Castro Espín accompanied his father during his meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama in Panama and at the United Nations. It was later revealed that he led the Cuban side of the secret talks with the United States that led to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the countries.
Scenario 2: The reverse of Scenario 1, this possibility places a Castro (like Castro Espín) as the appointed president, with a technocrat appointed as prime minister.
The scenario that will take place depends on which position ultimately holds most of the power. The president is defined as the head of state, but it has not been stipulated if the prime minister will serve as head of government, in which case the latter would hold most of the power. The scenario that will develop also depends on whether the Cuban dictatorship will stick to what it has codified into the Constitution, a feat that has seldom been implemented in its entirety.
Another question that arises regarding the future composition of Cuba's leadership is the extent to which demographic, gender and racial diversity will factor into the appointments. Since 1959, Cuba's leadership has been dominated by older white men, largely due to the composition of most of the Cuban revolution's top generals and officials. However, over time, Cuba's leaders have been ill-equipped to handle calls for more diversity in its ranks.
In recent decades, Cuba's younger residents, women and Afro-Cubans have sought greater representation in the government. In the current 605-member legislature (from where Cuba's leaders are selected), the average age of the delegates is 49, while 53.2 percent of them are women. While the numbers favor the selection of younger delegates, women and Afro-Cubans as future leaders, age and race discrimination, as well as a long tradition of machismo, make appointments of members from these groups less likely.
Leadership changes in Cuba will only be superficial and tactical to achieve the dictatorship's survival. Only a truly democratic political system based on justice and the rule of law that allows for and fosters the establishment of political parties, free, fair and competitive elections and constitutional guarantees of civil, political and economic rights will ensure real change. It is important to mention that Raúl Castro, as first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, remains the ultimate arbiter and decision maker in Cuban politics. Therefore, whether Cuba has a president, a prime minister or a hybrid regime will only serve to extend its repressive dictatorship.
Daniel I. Pedreira is an author and Ph.D. student in political science at Florida International University.