In Communist societies, the fall of a dictator is often marked by a public statement about the dictator’s failing health that (a) doesn’t make sense, and (b) is not delivered by the dictator himself. That’s what we saw on Monday night, when Cuban dictator Fidel Castro issued a “letter to the people” in which he explains that he had suffered intestinal bleeding due to stress, needed an operation, and would be in bed for several weeks. The missive was coldly Orwellian in how little it said about Castro — and in how much detail it gave about those who were now “temporarily” assuming power.
The next day another Cuban official read a more entertaining letter in which Castro purports to explain (again in pure Newspeak) that because of the imminent threat from the United States, the details of his health are now a state secret. But there’s only one detail about Castro’s health that could possibly be a state secret: that he’s dead.
The real game starts now, as the realities of internal power dynamics start making for unexpected conflicts and strange bedfellows. This unstable phase of the struggle for succession is highly characteristic in Communist regimes. It may last many weeks or months, and it is doubtful, if history is any guide, that all of the initial players will survive — literally. And in this case it is almost inconceivable that when the dust settles, we will still be looking at a Communist regime.
For a sense of whose those names are that will crop up in the news read the article. It is an excellent primer and for the American-Cuban community perspective read Babalu Blog. Let me close with another snippet of Loyola's piece:
Meanwhile, it is satisfying to see how perfectly and inevitably Castro’s life is coming to a Stalinesque end. It was on March 4, 1953, that the Kremlin announced that Joseph Stalin had suffered a stroke four days earlier, and that power would temporarily be held by a group of senior leaders. On March 6, it was announced that Stalin had died the night before. At his funeral, three of the new leaders made speeches, the order of the speakers marking the new order of precedence.
Less than two weeks after that, the new premier (Malenkov, the most senior party leader after Stalin) was forced to resign his most important post. By the end of the year, the second (Beria, the head Stalin’s secret police) had been secretly arrested and executed. Two years after that, the third (Molotov, Stalin’s foreign minister) was named ambassador to Mongolia.
Out of nowhere, Nikita Khruschev had emerged to assume complete control of the Soviet Union. And of course, one fine day many years later, it was announced (and not by him) that Khruschev had resigned all political offices, due to old age and deteriorating health.… And on and on went the history of the Soviet Union, until the day it finally died, when a group of would-be coup leaders explained in a press conference that Premier Gorbachev had been taken ill, and some reporters just started laughing.