Would a "perfect storm" help resolve the tedious Fidel Castro illness-and-succession saga gripping Cuba?
The question came up during a recent forum on the island's future. Specialists suggested that - contrary to some hopes after the Cuban dictator first took ill - essentially no possibility presently exists for a post-Castro collapse. That is, unless a perfect storm develops.
Now, I have to admit that I would be very pleased if Castro would wither away and a freer Cuba would emerge. For too long, the island's people have been denied self-determination and subjected to the whims of a crusty communist who refuses to accept that the "best" days of his movement and philosophy lie behind him.
But so many questions swirled around Castro's health crisis at its onset that it was impossible to determine whether he was actually indisposed. Perhaps, as some speculated, he had devised a scheme to evaluate how the transition might unfold. If it did not take place in a positive manner, Castro magically would return from behind the scenes and resume control.
To this day, Castro's true status remains a frustrating secret. Some have him at death's door. Others express optimism. As one example, a Spanish doctor who examined Castro in December declared that he did not have cancer, might recover and, in any event, was doing "fantastically well."
I doubt it, having seen through the propaganda that communist systems have spewed over the years. In fact, Castro's death could easily happen long before it is publicly announced.
The argument that Raul, Fidel's brother and current ruler of Cuba, is capable of ushering in substantial change and has a firm grip on the reins also strikes me as off-base. The two men have walked in lockstep for nearly half a century. It is highly unlikely that Raul's golden years will inspire him to replace his repressive toughness with a reformer's visage, despite his much-discussed willingness to delegate authority and seek advice.
Oh, Raul probably will hold on for a few years or so. My guess, though, is that opposition criticism and boldness will mount - especially among young people, who regard the Castro brothers and their inner circle with no particular admiration.
And in the event of a perfect storm - the chance occurrence of several unrelated events that collectively deliver a far more significant impact than they would individually - I suspect that the Castro regime would crumble.
Consider this: A perfect storm starts sometime during the next several months with Fidel's passing. Second, soon thereafter, Raul dies; he is, after all, only slightly younger than his sibling and cannot defy nature. Third, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez departs from the scene, whether by popular pressure, an illness or an act of violence. The absence of Chavez, a staunch partner and benefactor of the Castro regime, staggers Cuba. Fourth, world prices for key Cuban commodities such as sugar drop precipitously, creating more dire circumstances.
Finally, an actual storm hits. Cuba, sitting squarely in the middle of hurricane alley, has no real defenses. I am not talking about 2005 storms such as Dennis and Wilma, as damaging as they were. Rather, given today's increasingly common freak weather - for example, the mega-storm that devastated Europe last week - a "hurricane of the century" almost surely looms over the horizon. Dwarfing Hurricane Katrina in size and packing category five-plus winds, it wallops Cuban agriculture, tourism and society.
Against such forces, unless Cubans opt to leave in droves, regime change will follow - without any assistance from the United States, I might add. Considering America's commitments around the world, I cannot imagine any serious U.S. intervention impulses toward Cuba, no matter how vulnerable it appeared.
But I certainly can imagine and would welcome any version of a perfect storm for Cuba that would relegate the Castro era to history.