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Posted March 16, 2009 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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(Publisher notes: 1. Original title: The Plot Against The Castros. 2. See my bold highlights for reference in comments below.)

Two of Cuba’s star politicians seem to have been a part of a conspiracy or a coup to overthrow Raúl Castro

By Jorge Castañeda | NEWSWEEK

(Mr. Castañeda is a former foreign minister of Mexico, Global Distinguished Professor at New York University and a fellow at the New America Foundation.)

For years, two tidbits of conventional wisdom have dominated debates among Cubanologists (a tropical subspecies of former Kremlinologists). First, that Deputy Prime Minister and economic czar Carlos Lage has been in charge of running the island economy since the early ‘90s, and, despite differences of opinion regarding his performance, was seen as one of the most likely successors to Fidel Castro’s brother and successor, Raúl. Second, that Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque was not only in charge of the international relations Fidel Castro took increasingly less interest in, but that he was something of a favorite son. Most observers, including several Latin American ex-presidents close to Castro, saw him as the heir apparent, once the caudillo’s brother passed from the scene. So Raúl’s decision to dump the two stars a fortnight ago is a major event in Cuba, and unlike previous purges, this one is clearly linked to Fidel Castro’s succession, and may tell us a great deal about what lies ahead.

The problem, of course, is that, as in the Soviet Union when Stalin died, or in China after Mao’s death, we don’t really know what is going on. Yet there are solid reasons to believe that something along the following lines took place: for at least a month or so, Lage, Pérez Roque and others were apparently involved in a conspiracy, betrayal, coup or whatever term one prefers, to overthrow or displace Raúl from his position. In this endeavor, they recruited—or were recruited by—Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who in turn tried to enlist the support of other Latin American leaders, starting with Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic, who refused to get involved.

Their reasons for wishing to unseat Rául were mainly turf and power, but they also feared that the leader was beginning to feel threatened by the reaction of the Cuban people to excessive economic and social deprivation, and after his brother’s demise would be unable to control the flow of events. Consequently, he would accept a series of economic and political reforms to normalize relations with the United States, knowing full well that therein lay the only option for immediate improvement in Cubans’ lives. They believed this to be a betrayal of the revolution, and the beginning of the end of its survival.

This would represent the latest of many anti-Castro intrigues since 1959. As usual, Castro (Raúl this time; before, both brothers) detected the plot almost before the plotters themselves. Raúl took the evidence collected by military intelligence to his ailing brother, and forced him to choose: stick with him and extend his support to the predetermined succession path, or back Lage and Pérez Roque and forsake Raúl. With evident disappointment in his (Fidel’s) old allies, the Comandante Máximo backed Raúl. Then Chávez was summoned to Havana to be placed before another devil’s alternative: back off, while maintaining economic support for the island, or lose his Cuban security detail and intelligence apparatus, exposing himself to coups and assassination attempts from eventual Venezuelan replacements. He chose to stick with the Castros.

The day after their resignation, the two plotters were expelled from their other posts in disgrace. In a newspaper column Fidel accused them of harboring excessive “ambitions” fed by the “honey of power” and the “absence of sacrifice.” He said they had reawakened the illusions of “foreign powers” regarding Cuba’s future. More importantly, and enigmatically, he resorted to a baseball metaphor on the occasion of the World Baseball Classic to praise Dominicans for not participating (the team’s plans had been unclear) and to claim that Chávez’s baseball players, “as good and young” as they might be, were no match for “Cuba’s seasoned all-stars.”

When the conspirators were stripped of their titles, they published classic Stalinist mea culpa letters, acknowledging their “mistakes” (without saying what they were), and pledging loyalty to Fidel, Raúl and the revolution. Such behavior raises ominous questions. Pérez Roque was popular in Cuba; his youth, his humble origins, his combative nature all brought him closer to the people than most Cuban bureaucrats. Once Fidel is gone, will Raúl be able to “keep him down on the farm,” if and when he claims to be Fidel’s true heir? Will Raúl be able to pull off a rapprochement with Washington quickly enough to placate the restiveness his opponents could exploit? Or should he act to remove them from the scene, one way or another, before they return shrouded in glory?

Needless to say, none of this can be fully substantiated, and it is quite possible that, indeed, the entire affair might have now come to an end. Or, more probably, there will be a sequel: further persecution of the fallen idols, growing discontent in Cuba and increasing difficulties on the part of Raúl in managing the succession. It is worth remembering that Lenin, Stalin and Mao were all unable to control their successions, and they were neither fools nor choir children. There is scant reason to believe that Fidel, despite all his talent, will prove more successful.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on March 16, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    First, this is not just some tired old school Cuban exile speculating about what happened in Cuba recently where Carlos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque were fired. This is speculation from a former foreign minister from Mexico who knows Latin American politics first hand. So, I have to give this article some serious thought.

    Second, and this is the part that I find hard to believe, that Chavez is the one who organized the coop? That is a real long shot. Then again, he is nationalizing everything in Venezuela. However, I think he is genuinely in debt to Fidel so I don’t see Chavez trying to take over Cuba… not while Fidel is alive anyway.

    Third, say Chavez did organize such a coop. Since he is protected by Cuban security, Fidel or Raul could give the order to have Chavez killed very easily. So, after reading this article I don’t see how Chavez was involved. The author does say that none of this can be “fully substantiated” meaning I guess that some of it can?

    Lastly, I am not against the idea that Lage and Perez tried to make a power play but I’m not sure that outside forces were at work here. However, it would be interesting to speculate that the Obama Administration might have had a hand in encouraging Lage and Rogue to make a power play in return for concessions from the US.

    I say this because of the upcoming Summit of the Americas in April that Obama will be attending. It would have been very interesting if such a coop (if this was the case) were completed before the Summit.

    So, my radar is set to catch all kinds of extraneous news articles as I read into everything the weight of this upcoming Summit just about 30 days away from today.

    Be prepared for interesting Cuba news from the US side and within Cuba. All could be posturing for this upcoming Summit.

    Cuba consulting services

  2. Follow up post #2 added on March 16, 2009 by Yeyo with 411 total posts

    The article seems possible but I do not think that Chavez was involved.

    As Lage and Perez Roque were both among the selected group left by Fidel Castro to run initially the country, they were both later named numerous times (by the international press and foreign dignitaries) among the top few candidates with real possibilities to get the top job. That by itself, while a huge honor anywhere, is not nicely perceived by the hardcore old guard in Cuba.

    Furthermore if by any change any or both of them mentioned anything on that regard with their families or close friends that would be sufficient to wipe them completely out from the Cuban reality.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on March 16, 2009 by grant with 48 total posts

    The chances of this are about the same as the vacuum salesman in Our Man in Havana by Greene. In fact the mexican writes like Greene.

  4. Follow up post #4 added on March 16, 2009 by viajero

    que clase de tabaco se ha fumado el personaje este…... que me diga donde esta la marijuana que esta fumando porque esta bien buena…..

  5. Follow up post #5 added on March 16, 2009 by Miguel Gonzalez


  6. Follow up post #6 added on March 16, 2009 by pipefitter

    Yo creo que este tipo de tobaco lo hacen de mierda.

  7. Follow up post #7 added on March 16, 2009 by abh with 244 total posts

    Castaneda is a wild one.  Never know what to think when I read his stuff.  Can someone give me a quick recap of what Castaneda has done and what his political views are?  I have read him before and it seems like he is kind of an out-of-the-box thinker, no?

  8. Follow up post #8 added on March 17, 2009 by Tomas, Hialeah

    All I can say is Castañeda is like the most of “recycled comunist”, a “big blow pipe”. Dicho en buen cubano un gran soplatubo.

  9. Follow up post #9 added on March 17, 2009 by abh with 244 total posts

    So he was a communist?
    It seems that he has negative feelings towards the Cuban regime, for sure.  Is this what you know to be true?

  10. Follow up post #10 added on March 17, 2009 by Tomas, Hialeah

    Right, his father was a respectful leftist and former mexican foreign minister, and and the young Castañeda embraced the comunist ideology and was for long time really close to Manuel Piñeiro Lozada, the head of the Foreign Relations Department of the Cuban Comunist Party. Then, when his father died, he turned 180 degrees in his political position. Now, I think he is only traying to get attention, but almost everything what he say, sounds (and it’s) stupid.

  11. Follow up post #11 added on March 17, 2009 by abh

    Yes sir, that is exactly what I thought.  He reminds me of certain American intellectuals who were once ‘leftists’ but now are the ugliest type of right wingers.
    I don’t believe anything he says…do you?  Do you think there is some truth to it?

  12. Follow up post #12 added on March 18, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I think it is worthy of speculation. I actually thought maybe Obama might have been behind enticing them to rise to power before the Summit of the Americas but Chavez? I just don’t see that, especially with the Cubans protecting him.

    However, I wouldn’t put it past Chavez to try to rise to be the President of all of Latin America.

    Cuba consulting services

  13. Follow up post #13 added on March 18, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    CNN is weighing in on this story with Alleged plot against Raul Castro draws skepticism.

    The article doesn’t offer much but it’s a good summary of the current situation in Cuba.

    Cuba consulting services

  14. Follow up post #14 added on March 18, 2009 by Tomas, Hialeah

    I don’t even pay attention to anything he says, and let me tell you something, I lived 40 years in Cuba, so I know a little about what happen there, no one working in the government or the party nor in the army, would try to organize a coup, or conspiracy, or whatever else, to displace Raul from the head of the government, nor with Chavez support or even the Holy Spirit, because they know, better than anybody else, that something like that would never be successful, and believe me, no one in Cuba want to be called a traitor.

  15. Follow up post #15 added on March 18, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts


    Thank you for the insight. I agree that the insiders know how risky such maneuvering would be for their political and personal well being.

    What is your take on Lage and Roque? What is the “honey of power”?

    Cuba consulting services

  16. Follow up post #16 added on March 18, 2009 by Tomas, Hialeah

    That happens often there, but not so at this level, the thing is people getting important positions in the head of the country, by the time, start thinking they are too VIP, so is like they are in a superior social class, sometimes making gift to friends, family, mistress, or organizing parties unreachable for the most of the people, taking advantage of their positions. That’s called “ideological deviance”. In this case they were seen outside as Fidel and Raul successors but nobody named them like that in Cuba, but maybe they believed so.

  17. Follow up post #17 added on March 18, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Too bad that in Cuba it is a crime to succeed or even to aspire to be successful.

    Very sad.

    Cuba consulting services

  18. Follow up post #18 added on March 18, 2009 by Tomas, Hialeah

    Let me explain how they handle these things in Cuba. You don’t aspire to any political position, you are proposed for somebody else. You don’t talk about yourself, somebody else do. No posters, no ads. no money for candidates, absolutely no campaign. You are supposed to accept the political duties to serve the Homeland. When you cease for any reason (not fired, of course) you go to another position, maybe higher, maybe lower, you don’t go around giving interviews or conferences and getting paid for it. As they say, you are a Homeland soldier.

  19. Follow up post #19 added on March 18, 2009 by abh with 244 total posts

    Do you think we will see or hear from Lage or Perez Roque again?

  20. Follow up post #20 added on March 18, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts


    Well put. Sad but true. Why try at all if there is no gain? Hence the sad dehumanizing effects of Communism.


    Lage, unfortunately no.

    Roque, hopefully no.

    Cuba consulting services

  21. Follow up post #21 added on March 18, 2009 by Tomas, Hialeah

    My opinion and I think is the most of cubans (in Cuba,I mean), Lage is a very intelligent, and until I know very simple and austere person, I even think that he maybe did something wrong, but not extremely bad. Both still remain member of the party ( the new foreign minister told it this morning in a press conference), so maybe we will hear about them again.

  22. Follow up post #22 added on March 18, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Then there is this scenario from the Miami Herald quoting a Russian website that they were fired not because they were trying to make on move on Raul’s authority but that they were trying to hold back his reforms.

    “Pakhomov’s view is that Fidel Castro’s explanation was correct. By “overindulging in ‘the honey of power,’ [Pérez Roque and Lage] began to behave unworthily. If we look at this explanation not from the point of view of revolutionary morals but from the perspective of political expediency, by hurrying to strengthen their positions of power the two men basically hindered the program for the improved effectiveness of the state’s political system that Raúl Castro is trying to achieve.”

    Man, this Cuba guessing makes your head spin.

    Cuba consulting services

  23. Follow up post #23 added on March 18, 2009 by Tomas, Hialeah

    The cuban government is really good doing this, you never know what’s actually happening and is very difficult from the distance to realize what’s going on. But if they say everything we couldn’t be here trying to guess. Do you agree?

  24. Follow up post #24 added on March 18, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Of course Fidel and Raul have always hated information and freedom of speech. Why would they want to give out any accurate information. Unfortunately this attitude hurts them in the international business community because they cannot be trusted.

    The Cuban government has received Billions of dollars in “loans” and credits from dozens of countries and they have a terrible credit rating.

    They have everything to loose by being open and honest.

    Cuba consulting services

  25. Follow up post #25 added on March 18, 2009 by abh with 244 total posts

    They run an incredibly tight ship.  They must love that we’re all spending so much time trying to guess, as Tomas says. 
    I feel that I must say that one must consider the possibility that the top-level government officials are extremely loyal partly because they believe in the system and the Castro(s).
    I find that this possibility is often lost on people outside cuba, especially in the US.

  26. Follow up post #26 added on March 18, 2009 by Tomas, Hialeah


    You are absolutely right.

  27. Follow up post #27 added on March 19, 2009 by Yeyo with 411 total posts

    The top guys don’t believe in the system and the Castros, they only believe in themselves and the life style that comes with the top positions. Many of them are afraid of any change and losing everything they have now.

    Lage and Perez Roque likely did not make any “mistake” but they both were obviously against Raul trying to put his loyalists (comprised mostly of military officers and old guerrillas) in the top positions to consolidate his power.

    Lage and Perez Roque represented the new generation of leaders brought by Fidel and hence they were Fidel loyalists. Raul would not allow anybody that can represent a present or future challenge to his power.

    This is not about reforms this about power and Raul as Fidel did before only wants to stay in power.

    “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”

  28. Follow up post #28 added on April 12, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Thanks to Yeyo for the tip on this story.

    Here’s a good summary of the Perez Roque and Lage situation.

    In Cuba, Change Means More of the Same, With Control at the Top

    Cuba consulting services

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