A report in Time Magazine this week that Cuban President Fidel Castro has terminal cancer has triggered new speculation about the Communist nation's future. A number of Cuba experts say that Fidel's younger brother, Raul Castro, has taken center stage in Cuba like no one else has done in the 47 years Fidel has been in power.
Cuba's interim president, Raul Castro, has denied reports that his older brother is dying, saying Fidel is constantly improving, and that he will hold a special session with student delegates in December. President Fidel Castro temporarily ceded power to Raul on July 31, saying he was undergoing surgery for intestinal bleeding and would need weeks to recover.
State-run media have shown photos and videos of Fidel Castro in pajamas meeting dignitaries in a private setting, but no new photographs of the 80-year-old leader have been released in three weeks.
Meanwhile, Raul Castro, 75, has had a number of public appearances recently, in contrast to the first weeks after Fidel's surgery. He appeared at a youth meeting Sunday, and he delivered his first nationally televised domestic speech two weeks ago.
Brian Latell is a professor at the University of Miami and has written a book about the two Castro brothers called "After Fidel." He said the brothers have a fascinating relationship and have been working together for 53 years.
"Fidel has relied on Raul to an extraordinary extent and Raul Castro has been underestimated for years by observers," he said. "He has run the military and the armed forces very skillfully, the world's longest-serving defense minister. He is a very powerful man in his own right. And he's been essential to Fidel, he's been indispensable. I do not think Fidel Castro could have kept himself in power for almost 48 years without the support of his brother."
Latell points to the lack of riots, protests or open challenges to Raul Castro since Fidel's surgery as evidence that he is a formidable political player.
Professor Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the University of Miami, agrees that Raul Castro should not be underestimated.
"Let us remember Raul has always been the man behind the scenes, running the day-to-day [operations]," said Mr. Gomez. "It was Fidel's face that represented the Cuban revolution. Raul, from all the years we have studied him, we know for a fact that he is a very capable administrator."
Professor Gomez says there have been no policy changes since Raul Castro took power in late July, and he does not expect any until after Fidel dies. He said that Raul Castro looks to Communist China as a role model, meaning he says, stronger global economic ties without accompanying political freedoms.
Most analysts agree that, for now, Raul Castro holds a firm grip on the levers of power in Cuba.