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Q&A: Who Will Succeed Castro?

After 47 years as the leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro has shifted power, temporarily, to his brother Raul as he undergoes surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding. But even before his most-recent illness, succession had been a topic of open discussion in Cuba.

Five years ago, Castro fainted during a speech in Cuba. In 2004, he fell from a platform, shattered his knee, and broke his arm. Some suspect that Castro had a series of small strokes recently. Others believe he suffers from Parkinson's disease.

Many believe that a campaign to prepare the country for the inevitable is under way. But Raul Castro is himself 75 years old and unlikely to command the same kind of loyalty. Who else is in a position to assume power? Tom Gjelten explains.

What's in place for Castro's succession?

The Cuban government is in a terrible position with respect to planning for the succession. For all the time that Fidel Castro has been in power, he has really resisted sharing authority with everyone. He has insisted on making all key decisions himself. And as a result of that, you've had a very centralized system of government, with no local leadership. You don't get people accustomed to taking responsibility themselves, making their own decisions.

The result of which is that there really isn't much authority in Cuba outside the person of Fidel Castro. He can make announcements or pronouncements right now about who's designated to succeed him, but almost everyone who's in a position of power in Cuba -- whether it's Raul, or whether it's any of these other second-tier people -- owe their position in power to Fidel. Once he is gone, it could be a complete chaos. It could be a vacuum of authority. Everything that Fidel said about what he wants to follow after him, in a sense, goes out the window, because he's not there to make sure it does.

Who would control the army? Who would control the police?

Well, Raul Castro would definitely control the army. He also has Ministry of Interior forces under his command, as well. And this is the one fact, I think, that we can rely on, at least in the short run. Raul has been defense minister, he's been commander in chief of the Cuban armed forces from the very beginning. He does have great loyalty among the Cuban armed forces.

What about that second tier of leaders? Who are they? What positions do they hold?

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Neal Conan
Award winning journalist Neal Conan was the final host of Talk of the Nation, which broadcast its final show on June 27, 2013.
Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.