One year after he underwent surgery, Fidel Castro is still recovering and Cubans are still wondering whether the veteran revolutionary will resume the leadership he handed over to his brother Raul.
Friends of the communist leader say his recovery is going very well, but the secrecy surrounding his condition has stirred wild speculation about his health and his political future.
Government officials have said on many occasions he will eventually be back on the job, but the length of his recovery has raised doubts Castro, who turns 81 in mid-August, will ever be able to fully resume his political functions.
After local elections in October and national polls next year, it should become clear at least who is officially in charge.
Lawmakers elected in April will select the 31 members of the Council of State, who in turn will choose Cuba’s next head of state.
Whether they pick one of the Castro brothers or one of the younger top Cuban officials is anyone’s bet at this stage, but analysts believe the decision is certain to reflect the ailing president’s desire.
Among officials with presidential credentials is Carlos Lage, 54, one of Cuba’s four vice-presidents, who is considered a pragmatist and has strong support among leading communist personalities.
Raul Castro, the acting president, 75, has said on several occasions it was time to hand over to a younger generation.
After an uninterrupted stint in power since 1959, Fidel Castro “provisionally” handed over to his younger brother and longtime number two on July 31, 2006, four days after undergoing complex gastro-intestinal surgery.
He has had to undergo several more operations since then, as complications emerged after the initial surgery.
The veteran leader has dropped out of public view, except for videotaped appearances, including several with his Venezuelan friend, ally and counterpart, Hugo Chavez.
A gifted orator known for his lengthy and all-encompassing speeches, Castro now speaks slowly and softly, and has taken to writing his thoughts in editorials that focus largely on blasting the United States, which he has defied for almost five decades. But he has given no indication on his own political future.
So far, little has changed in Cuba, one of the world’s last communist-run states, since Castro’s seclusion in a hospital-like room at an undisclosed location.
Contrary to earlier predictions by Castro foes, the transfer of power to the younger Castro did not lead to a popular clamor within Cuba for swift reforms, and business has continued as usual.
Many analysts say Cuba successfully passed a key test in the transfer of power orchestrated by Fidel Castro and planned long before his operation.
Having lived most of his life in the shadow of his older brother, Raul Castro is generally viewed as the more pragmatic of the two. He suggested dialogue with the United States, but Washington insisted this would only be possible if the regime takes steps toward democratic reform.
While the acting president has invited public criticism, he has also made it clear the communist government would remain faithful to its revolutionary ideals.
Political analysts in Havana and Miami say there is little likelihood of any major political changes being introduced soon.
“Raul is no Gorbachev or Deng Xiaoping”, Cuban-American political analyst Jaime Suchlicki wrote in the Harvard International Review. “With his brother alive, and even when he is gone, he is not likely to institute major economic or political reforms”, he argued.
JG: Jaime Suchlicki has never distinguished himself for knowing much about Cuba. He is part of the Miami gusanos anti-Cuba crowd.