Leadership and Democracy LabWestern Social Science

Change in the Leadership of Cuba

December 23rd, 2016.

Robert Armstrong- Primary Article Contributor

Team Leader: Mary Peplinski

Keywords: Cuba, Cuban Leadership, Death of Fidel Castro, Replace, Raul Castro.

Cuban leader Raul Castro will be turning 86 this year and with the death of his brother, Fidel Castro, the future leadership of Cuba remains uncertain. President Raul Castro has stated that in 2018 he will retire as President of Cuba after the completion of his final five-year term. It is likely that the Vice President of Cuba Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, who is 52 years old, will replace Raul Castro in 2018 as President. This would be a major shift in Cuban politics and possibly policy as Díaz-Canel Bermúdez would be the first leader of Cuba who did not have a role in the 1959 Cuban communist revolution. However, many believe that Raul Castro will continue to weigh heavily in Cuban political circles as he has said he will not resign as the secretary general of the Communist Party of Cuba. 

Many believe that since taking the presidential office of Cuba in 2006, Raul Castro has had the time to appoint trusted allies into positions of power. Raul has placed his son Alejandro Castro Espin, and his former son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez in strategic governmental positions. Alejandro Castro is the head of counterintelligence in both the ministries of the Interior and of the Armed Forces of Cuba. General Luis Alberto Rodriguez, the father of Raul Castro’s grandchildren, is the manager of GAESA. This company controls the majority of retail stores, restaurants, gas stations, car rentals, beaches, property, telephone equipment, and new technological supplies in Cuba. GAESA also dominates the tourist sector in Cuba. As a result, it would be difficult for foreign companies to compete with GAESA when it comes to the tourism industry. Companies attempting to penetrate the industry would have to rely heavily on establishing relations with General Luis Alberto Rodriguez and GAESA. Despite the barriers, some foreign companies have been successful in creating deals with GAESA. For example, Spain’s Meliá Hotels International cut a deal with a branch of GAESA allowing them to build and operate resorts on the beaches of Varadero.

Despite the death of Fidel Castro, many things have not changed and investments in the tourism sector could be threatened if the government lost favour in a company operating within its borders. In 2014, Sarkis Yacoubian, a 55-year-old Canadian, started a company called Tri-Star Caribbean. He sold vehicles, and industrial equipment to different branches of GAESA.  Yacoubian was arrested under charges of tax evasion and was arrested for tax evasion, corruption, and espionage. Yacoubian claims he didn’t receive a fair trial in Cuba and after two years in prison he was released and returned to Canada. His company was absorbed by the branch of GAESA that he had done business with. Yacoubian claims that 20 million dollars of assets were absorbed by the Cuban government.

Doing business in Cuba still requires support from the Cuban government and in terms of the tourism industry, from GAESA as well. Raul Castro has been in power since 2008 which has given him the ability to appoint his political allies into positions of power. Raul Castro has also said that he plans to hold onto the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba when he steps down as president. Although the recent death of the Fidel Castro have led many to believe that drastic economic and social changes could occur, it has become clear that for the time being, Cuba will continue to operate business as usual.