When Raúl Castro became president of Cuba in 2006, he raised hopes, at home and abroad, that he would usher in a new era of reform. His brother, El Comandante Fidel, was struck with some sort of intestinal illness and rendered incapable of governing. So in stepped Raúl with promises to undertake “structural” change in the country. He distributed parcels of idle land to farmers. He encouraged young people, many of whom feel restive about their country’s system, to “fearlessly debate” the country’s problems. He decreed that Cubans could finally buy cell phones and computers, and could stay at tourist hotels that had previously been off-limits to them. When it came to relations with the United States, he said last April, “We are prepared to discuss everything—human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners—everything, everything, everything.”
But over the past year, some prominent Cuba analysts say, Fidel has steadily reasserted his authority and applied the brakes to these efforts. Despite his convalescence far from public view, Fidel is once again the arbiter on all critical matters facing the state, says Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst and now a senior research associate at the University of Miami. “I think Fidel decided that Raúl was going too far, that Raúl was playing with fire,” he says. As evidence, Latell points to recent shuffling of the leadership ranks that he considers an affront to Raúl and to Fidel’s backsliding commentary in more than 100 “Reflections” he has published in the Cuban press during the past year. Any hope of warmer relations with the U.S. has been dashed, says Latell. “I don’t see any progress possible in the foreseeable future.”
Cue the nauseating cheering from the usual suspects.