William Norton: Election fever hits Cuba
It’s the end of an era as the Grand Old Man of world revolution, Fidel Castro, announces he is to stand down after 49 years in charge of Cuba. So what does the future hold for this idyllic, happy, paradise island in the sun? To ensure that readers of Conservative Home have the very latest up-to-date news, we asked Our Man In Havana, Guillermo Norton, to review the race.
Hola, senors! Fidel Castro will be a hard act to follow. This incredibly talented man has managed to hold down simultaneously the positions of President, Prime Minister, President of the Council of State, President of the Council of Ministers, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement and editor of the Guardian website.
However, true to the values of democracy and openness he has espoused all his life, Fidel has promised that the search for his successor will be conducted through a free and fair open election “just like they have in Britain”. So there’ll be just the one candidate, then.
At the moment, however, the word on the street – well, actually, it’s a back alley out of the way of the security services – indicates that the following five people are being talked about as potential successors.
(1) Maximum General Raul Castro
As those inscrutable North Koreans have demonstrated so well, the best way to continue a successful people’s democracy is to keep it in the family. With plummeting education standards – caused entirely by the US blockade – it would only confuse the peasants if they had to learn to chant a new surname for their Leader. Raul is a formidable candidate, drawing unanimous support from four key battleground groups in Cuban society: the army, the Communist Party, the police and the bureaucracy. But he modestly downplays the advantages he has as Fidel’s brother and says he sees himself as the change candidate: “I am a Liberal by temperament, by instinct and by upbringing. I want a new politics, a people’s politics. To lead well, a leader needs to listen. I’ll be listening on all telephone lines and all frequencies, 24/7.”
(2) Field Marshal Diego Diaz-Squad
Diego is the affable, gregarious, out-going, sociable, and ruthlessly efficient director of the Interior Ministry’s Torture Department. He explains his candidacy this way: “Having met so many of my fellow Cubans over the years, in conditions of considerable closeness, I feel I uniquely know what is going on inside their heads. Also their workplaces, schools, living rooms, garages and bedrooms. And of course I know where they all live.” If the early primaries are unfavourable, which they will be, Diego may well withdraw from the contest to take up Cuba’s seat on the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
(3) John Reid
President of Cuba is the one job in politics that John Reid hasn’t had, and since he stepped down from the Cabinet he’s been at a loose end. How can the Cubans possibly refuse the talents of a man with such experience of managing a declining socialist country where the banks are nationalised? John’s certainly looking forward to the challenge. “I demonstrated when I was at the Home Office that I wasn’t up to the job of stopping millions of illegal immigrants from getting into a small island. But the problems facing Cuba are exactly the opposite, so I’m your man. And as a teetotal non-smoker, the voters can be reassured that at least I won’t be swiping the Bacardi and cigars from the sideboard.”
(4) Natasha Kaplinsky
Having conquered Channel Five and brilliantly re-engineered the concept of evening news bulletins, the plucky, and surprisingly expensive, newsreader is expected to be looking for new challenges in the very near future. Taking the Presidency would be a fresh start both for her and for Cuba. “My first job after university was as Neil Kinnock’s press officer, so becoming involved in a ramshackle left-wing outfit would be a return to my roots. As a former Strictly Come Dancing champion I would fit in perfectly with the vibrant salsa culture of Havana, and I would introduce a government based on sofas and unbuttoned blouses as a refreshing change from an old man with a cigar. Besides, Fidel plundered $550 million from the people of Cuba, so at a £1 million salary I actually represent excellent value.”
(5) Al Pacino in “Scarface”
Dark horse candidate, but may have surprisingly effective methods of voter persuasion. Running on a three-pledge platform: “first you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the woman”.