After Fidel, another Castro?
Intelligence analyst considers the island’s future if brother Raul takes over.
By Don Bohning
After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro’s Regime and Cuba’s Next Leader. Brian Latell. Palgrave MacMillan. $24.95. 273 pp.
Written by a U. S. intelligence analyst who has spent more than four decades tracking Cuba under Fidel Castro, After Fidel is an invaluable book for anyone even marginally interested in one of global communism’s last bastions.
Dispassionate, informative, concise and well written, it provides such a wealth of fascinating details of Castro’s rise to, and exercise of, power that it is impossible to summarize adequately in a brief review.
Perhaps the most interesting and topical insights come in the final pages as Brian Latell speculates on what kind of a successor Fidel’s brother, Raul, would be and the challenges he would surely confront to keep the Castro rule intact.
Early on, Latell sets the scene with a revealing account of the brothers’ formative years near Santiago, in eastern Cuba, and their subsequent long, and sometimes tendentious, sibling relationship. It is a history that includes the 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks which gave rise to Castro’s July 26 Movement.
Latell makes it clear he considers Raul—five years younger than Fidel and a known committed Communist before his impulsive older brother—the more practical and pragmatic of the two.
In contrasting the two, Latell writes that “very few officials manage to please Fidel for long, including even some of the most successful administrators. He does not welcome criticism or indulge doubts about policies he favors, and as he has aged into his late seventies he has become even more intransigent and sensitive to imagined slights.”
Latell describes Raul as “also a tough disciplinarian to be sure, but patient and willing to forget human error ... Fidel, in contrast, never forgets a slight or an error.”
Latell clearly suggests that “once in power, in his own right, [Raul] will place an early and high priority on improving relations” with the United States, something Fidel would never do. Such a policy, says Latell, would be popular “in the military, with most civilian leaders, and especially with the Cuban people.”
By the mid-1970s, Latell says he “finally came to understand that Fidel was pathologically hostile to the United States and his hatred could never be assuaged. He needs and wants the American enemy so it can be blamed for his and the regime’s failures.” For that reason, he says, there is no way that U.S efforts at reconciliation undertaken during the Kennedy, Nixon-Ford and Carter Administrations had a chance of succeeding.
A mirror image of Fidel’s position toward reconciliation was—and continues to be—unwittingly reinforced on the opposite side of the Florida Straits by the influence of hard-line Cuban exiles on U.S. policies toward Cuba.
Latell acknowledges that any transition of Cuban leadership to Raul will not be easy, “lacking Fidel’s exceptional leadership qualities and credibility with the populace.” He calls the upcoming succession “a time bomb waiting to go off,” with the potential for a “Tiananmen Square scenario” that could sunder the military. An even worse scenario, suggests Latell, would be if Raul were to die first “at a time when Fidel’s judgment was impaired by age or infirmity.”
Raul’s early death, suggests Latell, “would throw all three of the country’s most critical lines of succession—in the Communist Party, the government, and the defense ministry—into contention simultaneously. Fidel would come under tremendous pressure as rivals anxious to move up jockeyed for his favor and clashed with each other.”
Among significant other events for which Latell adds new perspectives is the damage done by Ana Montes, the Puerto Rican-born Cuban intelligence “mole,” who worked years for the Defense Intelligence Agency before she was discovered.
He also assesses the high-profile 1989 trial and execution by the Castro regime of General Arnaldo Ochoa, a highly popular Cuban officer who had served both in Angola and Nicaragua. Ochoa was, as well, an intimate friend of Raul’s who, nonetheless, followed through on Fidel’s demands for Ochoa’s execution.
Contrary to widespread speculation that Ochoa was involved in a plot against Fidel, Latell contends he was “guilty of nothing more than inappropriate talk ... mostly bluster, and bluster was Ochoa’s style.”
One of the more timely and intriguing revelations regards Cuban-sponsored Puerto Rican terrorism, activity that foreshadowed the lack of communication between the FBI and the CIA so apparent prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
“What the FBI knew and the CIA did not was that Fidel had been supporting Puerto Rican terrorists for years ... Sadly, in those days .. the CIA and FBI operated as rival intelligence services,” Latell says.
Don Bohning is the author of The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations Against Cuba 1959-1965.