"Is He Dead Yet?"

I heard on the radio in Vegas that a Cuban restaurant there is offering a free mojito to anyone who walks in and asks, “Is he dead yet?” (sorry, Vegas drinkers, but I don’t remember the name of the place). From reading this rather facinating analysis, I’m guessing the answer is “yes.”

[T]he events to date in Cuba strongly suggest that a fierce internal struggle is now going on and that Raul’s absence from the airwaves is ample evidence that he is definitely not in control and cannot muster even a temporary consensus.

Politics in dictatorships rely heavily on the nuances of public appearances to demonstrate who has power and who doesn’t, information that is crucial to provide direction for those who are part of the ruling system but not part of the inner circles of power. Dictatorships require a public face of unchallengeable unity and cannot withstand public displays of infighting. For that reason, the #1 priority for any would-be successor are fawning public appearances and blanket media coverage focused on him in order to demonstrate to all that he has emerged as the unchallenged center of power. It is all orchestrated, and none of it is “news.” If others share the stage, this means that the struggle is continuing but is stalemated and a public face of collective unity is necessary to prevent the regime from collapsing for lack of someone in control. But eventually there must be a Number 1.

Sometimes the struggle is over quickly – Gorbachev quickly solidified his preeminence after the death of the puppet Chernenko who was a nonentity used as a place-holder by the competing power brokers while they carried on their internal battle. After Gorbachev’s emergence, the media switched to all-Gorbachev all the time. Similarly, Hua Guo-feng (remember him? No one does) was Mao’s appointed heir, and his appearances and utterances blanketed the airwaves, newspapers, etc. But he was quickly shoved aside by Deng Xiaoping who managed to organize a stable coalition behind him and emerge triumphant in the inner circle, then quickly and publicly threw out and humiliated the Gang of Four, his principal opponents. Appearances in the media tracked closely the rise and fall of this power struggle.

Read the whole thing. And of course, whenever the answer is “yes,” it’ll be not a half-century too soon.