Raúl Castro announced his resignation as head of the Communist Party of Cuba on Friday. Many US media described the move as the “end of an era” of communist rule on the Caribbean island. This is wrong. Cuba has not really operated as a communist or socialist state for many years. Instead, it has been ruled by a military dictatorship that concentrates its power within a cartel-like chain of command of die-hard Castro family members, loyalists, and generals who fiercely protect their wealth and status – and each other.
Many analysts are focused on whether Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel will inherit Mr Castro’s leadership position as party secretary, which – at least on paper – is the highest office in the country. This is a distraction, as is Mr Díaz-Canel, who was installed by Mr Castro in 2018 as part of a false transfer of power. In Cuba, the Castro family lead with an iron fist, and the party and government are following suit. Even the Communist Party’s online motto, # SomosContinuidad – “We are continuity” – implies that the regime is determined not to change.
The key figure of Cuba’s silent elite is General Luis López Callejas, the former son-in-law of Mr Castro and father of his grandchildren. Mr. López Callejas heads Gaesa, a military-run conglomerate that controls approximately 75% of the Cuban economy, including hotels, construction companies, shipping companies, money exchange broadcasters and currency exchange. In 2018 a former State Department official told a Senate subcommittee alleging that Cuban military personnel, under the command of Mr López Callejas, were “directly” involved in the cocaine trafficking from Venezuela.
Another key figure is Mr. Castro’s son, Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, a powerful member of the Cuban intelligence apparatus. He has close ties with the Kremlin and ran Cuban spy agencies at the time of the 2019 sonic strikes against US and Canadian diplomats in Cuba, which are still unresolved.
These Castro family members and loyalists like José Machado Ventura, Ramiro Valdés and other Cuban military officials, whose names most Americans have never heard of, are the real rulers of Cuba.