But observers say that the Castros have only themselves to blame and that a history of cutting the legs out from under promising politicians has marked their rule almost from its inception.
“The lack of confidence Raul feels in young apparatchiks is based on the fact he doesn't understand their impatience or the speed at which they want to accelerate the process [of economic and political change],'' said Eduardo Bueno, a professor of international relations at Mexico's Iberoamerican University. “The founding generation is extremely closed, and this ethic has served to discredit young leaders.”
Raul and his brother Fidel have often criticized the young for a lack of revolutionary bona fides, saying that what they had was handed to them, rather than earned through valiant struggle.
The generation gap was never more apparent than at last week's Communist Party Congress, when Raul named elderly revolutionary figures Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 80, and Ramiro Valdes, 78, as his principal deputies. Three relatively young politicians were elevated to the 15-member party leadership council, but in lesser roles.
The changes fell far short of what many observers expected after hearing the emphatic declarations of both Castro brothers that the time had come for “rejuvenation” of the party and that the old must clear a path for future leaders.
Younger politicians unburdened by decades of party dogma – and unconnected to the struggles of the early days of the revolution – might be willing to move faster on the economic reforms Raul Castro has championed. They might even be open to considering democratic changes long demanded by Cuban exiles, activists and the U.S. But Castro has made clear he is not interested in a radical departure from socialism; he just wants to modernize it.
Raul seemed to acknowledge the gap between his words and final action in his closing speech, going out of his way to explain that because of bad choices, nobody acceptable was available to promote. But he implied that the error was having put faith in the wrong people, not having undercut fast-rising stars.
Raul hinted that some fresh faces might be added to the leadership council in January 2012, when the Communist Party will hold another important gathering.
In Cuba, those who have flown too high, too fast, have often found themselves falling back to earth, most famously in the case of Vice President Carlos Lage, then 57, and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, then 43, who were suddenly fired in March 2009.
Both were seen as potential post-Castro leaders and enjoyed relative respect in Washington and key European capitals. And neither was afraid to put himself in front of the cameras in a country where excessive publicity is not necessarily the safest path to success.
In the end, it was a camera neither man was aware of that did them in. Both were captured on a secret videotape drinking whiskey and joking about the country's old leaders.
A day after Raul fired them, Fidel made clear that the one-time proteges had lost both brothers' confidence and hinted that they were cut loose because their angling for leadership roles had become unseemly.
“The honey of power … awoke in them ambitions which led them to undignified behavior,” Fidel wrote. “The foreign enemy filled them with illusions.”
After Fidel's sharp words, Lage and Perez Roque promptly fell on their swords, accepted responsibility and withdrew into a quiet forced retirement that is common enough in Cuba to have its own name: Plan Pijama or Pajama Plan.
Lage is reportedly now a low-level hospital administrator. Perez Roque works as an engineer at an industrial park on the outskirts of the capital.
While the video has never been made public, it has been shown to thousands of Communist Party members across the island, an object lesson to those who might repeat the mistake.
This kind of cautionary tale has played out again and again since the 1959 revolution.