Battle for Cuba's future is brewing behind the scenes

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Fidel Castro's enemies may have prayed for almost half a century for this day, but there is little sign that the resignation of the figurehead of the Cuban revolution will bring about much immediate change.

A succession battle is certainly brewing behind the scenes – how could it not when Mr Castro is 81 and dying, and his brother Raul, the caretaker leader, is 76 – but for now it is likely to stay where it is, in the shadows.

First, Raul Castro is a formidable presence in and of himself. He runs the army, by far the most powerful institution in the country, and has a unique claim to figurehead status because of his long, close relationship with his brother.

And secondly, Fidel himself is not going to go away immediately. "He still has some good days, and when he has them, there is nothing to stop him from meddling, with or without the titles," said Ann Louise Bardach, a noted reporter, policy analyst and author of two books on Cuba including the forthcoming Without Fidel. "As long as he can speak and think we will be hearing from him. This is his baby, this revolution, and it's a cradle-to-grave operation."

Ms Bardach says the timing and the manner of the resignation announcement are a big hint that Mr Castro, ailing as he is, is still very much on the scene. He hit the US news cycle at the very start of the day, right after a dozy Presidents' Day holiday weekend, to maximise his media exposure – "pedigree Fidel" with his knack for public relations, Ms Bardach called it.

The resignation came after considerable pressure, both from within Cuba and from abroad. Mr Castro's incapacitation was seen as a crimp on the prestige and authority of his brother, who could only call himself acting leader, and only encouraged behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by younger men at the pinnacle of Cuba's power structure.

Those men include, most notably, Carlos Lage, one of Cuba's vice-presidents and the de facto head of the island's economy, who has a reputation for being able to bridge the gap between hardliners and reformers.

The hardline faction is most forcefully represented by Francisco Soberon, head of the Cuban central bank who has held firm against any idea of market-oriented reforms. The most visible leader with reformist leanings, meanwhile, is Ricardo Alarcon, the pragmatic president of the National Assembly.

Another possible player is Felipe Perez Roque, the Foreign Minister, seen as a Castro loyalist.

"A power struggle is going on quietly," Ms Bardach said. "Fidel has been good at needling the sides at each other, and even needling his own brother."