Cuba and Venezuela Both Face Succession Challenge

What will happen when these personable totalitarian dictators disappear?

By Guillermo Martinez.

Fidel Castro and his bearded revolutionaries lost little time in turning Cuba’s imperfect democracy into a totalitarian communist society. The opposition was executed, imprisoned or exiled quickly.

In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez took much longer to impose his brand of personal socialism. More than a decade since he came into power, Venezuela still has a weak but active opposition, a media that opposes the regime, and the country holds elections that, to a degree, do legitimize the regime.

At this point, both Cuba and Venezuela are governed by megalomaniac caudillos that practice socialism as a way of imposing their will on their people. Now, however, they both face a similar situation: What will happen when these personable totalitarian dictators disappear?

Cuba is governed predominantly by a group of white old men who rule over an island with a population that is younger and predominantly of mixed race. The Castro brothers do not have diverse a group of leaders ready to take over when they die. Fidel Castro has been ill for years, and his younger brother Raul is more than 80 years old.

In Venezuela, Chavez has tried to imitate Fidel Castro in everything. And now he too finds himself in a position much like that of his mentor. Chavez does not have an heir apparent. In his case, it is not a question of age, but rather of his health. Over the weekend he admitted he underwent surgery for cancer, and is not cancer-free.

Neither Cuba nor Venezuela has a clear line of succession. Venezuela still has opposition parties, but they have never presented a cohesive united opposition to the regime. Cuba does not even have an organized opposition. There are some dissidents, and some in the military who might be able to govern — albeit for a very short period of time.

Neither Cuba nor Venezuela has today a viable alternative leader that can step in and replace two violent dictators who for many years have imposed their will on the people of these two countries.

Both now face the possibility that one day soon the face of their respective governments may no longer be present. No one knows how much longer Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez will live. Their health is a state secret.

Totalitarian dictatorships have a common characteristic; they devour those who appear to have the will or knowledge to govern. They are never allowed to grow and are deposed as soon as their shadow grows.

The people of Cuba and Venezuela are today closer to having a change of government. Hopefully the transition in both cases with be peaceful and allow their people to live in democracies with liberty for all.

Guillermo is a veteran newsman with experience in print and broadcast journalism in South Florida and throughout Latin America. He won the Inter American Press Association’s Daily Gleaner Award for editorial commentary on Latin America.