As North Korea urges its people to rally behind Jong-il’s youngest son and heir apparent, Kim Jong Un, Cubans in the U.S. can’t help but see the Korean family succession of totalitarian power as an omen to the future to come for the Cuban people.
For 52 years, Cuban exiles and pro-democracy advocates have awaited the death of Castro in the hope that it would cripple the Communist regime – only to see that excitement wane by the appointment of his brother, Raul Castro, as president in 2006.
Today in North Korea, the realities of a totalitarian government run through bloodlines have ruled out any hope for democracy in that country.
“Without a doubt, both regimes are similar in concept in that the heirs to both dictatorships end the same way - family dynasties and bloodlines,“ internationally known Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez told Fox News Latino.
The quick succession to power of Jong-il's son after the father's death has sent mixed messages about what may transpire after Castro dies. Will democracy break through? Will native Cubans mourn?
North Koreans have marched by the thousands to their capital's landmarks to mourn, many seen crying uncontrollably and flailing their arms in apparent grief over news of the death of their "dear leader," according to the Associated Press. On the nation's state television, Ri Chun Hee, known as the voice of North Korea, tearfully broke the news of the dictator’s death on Monday.
“I don’t think we are going to see a Cuba filled with images of people crying in the streets, and tearing their clothes as a sign of their pain,” Sánchez said. “Actually instead, when Fidel Castro dies, everything will be held in an official ceremony and Cubans will breathe a big sigh of relief.”
Since Fidel Castro came to power, Cuban exiles have hoped to be able to return -- at least for a visit -- to a democratic Cuba. Numerous times during the bearded revolutionary's tenure, exiles thought certain events would bring down the regime -- the end of the Soviet empire, which kept Castro's government propped up with billions of dollars in aid annually; news of Castro's health problems; the passage of laws by the U.S. Congress tightening the embargo against Cuba.
Each bit of news prompted Cuban exiles to say "Next year in Havana," about where they would celebrate Christmas.
But the regime continued.
The future date of Castro’s death has always been marked as a date of reckoning – a new beginning. But experts point to Kim Jong-il’s death as a sign of what the current regime hopes will take place on the island.
“People think that whether he lives or dies is the only thing that will determine the future course of events in Cuba,” said Aramis Pérez, a secretariat member of the Cuban Resistance Assembly and Miami native. “In order for there to be an end to the regime there is an entire system that needs to be removed.”
Even though the power has already been transferred to Raul as President of Cuba, and succession plans have been set for years, Pérez believes there is hope that Castro’s death can be more than symbolic.
But, he says, don’t expect change to come from the regime.
“I do see great hope in the democracy movement and the real trends of the ordinary Cuban on the street seeing these activists taking these risks," said Pérez. "The ordinary person on the street losing that fear and starting to join more frequently."
Others say Castro’s death alone will not bring any miracles.
“The death of Fidel will not be that meaningful now compared to about 10 years ago,” said Jose Millares, 71, a Cuban exile and New Jersey resident who left the island at 23. “When both die that’s when change can happen.”
Activists like Alina Alvarez, president and founder of Cubans for Democracy in New Jersey, believe that unlike North Korea, the pro-democracy movement is alive and well in Cuba.
“I think his death is still going to mean something,” she said. “People in Cuba are sick and tired of living the way they are living. There were people that were skeptical. But now Cubans are seeing a different picture because of tourism, Facebook, and Twitter.”
Sánchez, the blogger, says she finds hope in the face of a discouraging omen from North Korea.
“North Korea is the only country in the world that makes me feel relieved to live in Cuba today,” she said.
Follow Bryan Llenas at @bryan_llenas or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.