Latell Report | Brian Latell (see bio below)
Welcome to The Latell Report. The Report, analyzing Cuba’s contemporary domestic and foreign policy, is published monthly and distributed by the electronic information service of the Cuba Transition Project (CTP) at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS).
The Latell Report is a publication of ICCAS and no government funding has been used in its publication. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ICCAS and/or the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Has the Transfer of Power Begun?
Signs of what is probably accelerating succession planning at the highest levels of the Castro regime have been multiplying since early this month. As Fidel Castro’s ability to provide coherent leadership has conspicuously deteriorated, his brother Raul seems to be assuming broader responsibilities, while also reaching out to improve his image with the Cuban people. These developments could even indicate that Raul has already assumed critical responsibilities from his brother and is now acting as Cuba’s de facto top decision maker.
Raul has been asserting personal control over the communist party apparatus, highlighting its likely enhanced role in the future. He has been focusing intense and sympathetic media attention on himself, while also emphasizing the strength and unity of the armed forces he has run since 1959. He has been out in public much more than has been customary, regularly now appearing on the front page of the official communist party daily, Granma. Cuban media coverage of the younger Castro has reached such unprecedented intensity in fact, that it seems logical to conclude that he has authorized the creation of his own public relations staff. Always deferential to Fidel’s starring role in the Cuban revolution, Raul would never in the past have presumed to upstage his brother this way.
The media blitz began on June 3rd, Raul’s 75th birthday, when Granma, ran a remarkable, extended paean to the defense minister. Under the headline, Cercania de Raul, literally translated as “nearness” to Raul, the article was intended in part to project a sympathetic image of a leader who has never been popular with the Cuban people. But the Spanish language title of the article also suggests a possibly momentous double meaning: Cercania de Raul might also be translated as the “proximity of Raul,” suggesting that his ascent to power in his own right has begun, or is imminent. I do not believe that Raul has ever been the subject of such unusual and personalized media attention.
The Granma birthday article was unprecedented in a number of respects. The authors, longtime close personal friends of Raul, seemed intent on distinguishing him favorably from Fidel, which would have been inconceivable until now. The “modesty and simplicity” that Raul demonstrates “in personal interactions” according to the authors, certainly contrasts with Fidel’s grandiosity.
Raul, the article emphasized, avoids making “unilateral assessments.” Instead –and notably unlike his brother—he always encourages “collective” approaches to solving problems. The implication in this, and other similar references in the article, as well as in a pointed passage in a speech Raul delivered to a military audience on June 14th, is probably that he intends to govern at the head of a collective civilian-military team. He seems to be signaling other Cuban officials that he does not plan to occupy all of the most important positions of power in the party and government, as Fidel does. That is a sound strategy for assuring leadership support for Raul’s uncontested succession.
His “deeply humane character,” devotion to his family, and concern for his responsibilities as a father and grandfather, as described in the article, also distinguish him from Fidel who has almost never even acknowledged the existence of his extended family. Raul, was said to be “good natured, kind, and funny,” adjectives that are rarely applied to his brother. In these and other similar descriptions of Raul, the intent was to correct the prevailing image of him as ruthless and draconian.
Raul’s skills as an administrator and organizer also contrast with Fidel’s penchant for extravagance and disorganization. The article stated that Raul is “a highly organized, disciplined, systematic, and demanding man.” Pointedly, it also highlighted the fact that he is always conscious of the costs of policy decisions. “How much fuel is consumed in moving troops?” he reportedly wants to know, for example. “What is the cost of this maneuver?’’ Fidel characteristically has little interest in such boring details.
The authors of the Granma article also include a veiled reference to the Castro brothers’ relationship that I believe is without precedent, on or off the record until now in the entire history of the revolution. They refer to the “difficult and complex responsibility that comes with being second in command.” Do they mean that the brothers have come to disagree about critical policy directions? Are they and Raul suggesting that he is now ready to emerge from Fidel’s overwhelming shadow, to put his own stamp on Cuban policy? Is this long-repressed younger brother now coming out into the full glare of leading Cuba?
Another shrouded but portentous reference in the article suggests that may be the case. The authors recall events of March 1958 when Raul took command of his own guerrilla forces that would then operate in the Sierra Cristal mountain range of eastern Cuba independently of Fidel’s troops in the Sierra Maestra. “It would be the first time” since the opening campaigns of the revolution in July 1953, according to the article, “that Fidel and Raul would not be together.”
The article concludes with several passages drawn from Fidel’s speeches and interviews over the years, in which he certifies his brother as his legitimate and preferred successor. “In my opinion, the colleague that was best prepared and that I knew could very well carry out the task was comrade Raul.” And, Fidel is also quoted as once having said: “everybody knows we hate nepotism here. (But) I honestly think that (Raul) has the sufficient qualities to substitute for me in case I die in this battle.”
Brian Latell bio: Brian Latell has been a Latin America and Caribbean specialist for the last four decades and lectures regularly on these subjects to university, professional, and political groups. Currently a senior associate in the CSIS Americas Program, he was an adjunct professor at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, where he taught undergraduate and upper-level courses including: Cuba and the Great Powers, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Crises in U.S.-Latin American Relations. In 1998, Latell retired after three and a half decades as a foreign intelligence officer, having served in the U.S. Air Force and for extended periods as a Latin America specialist at the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Intelligence Council. From 1994 to 1998, he served as director of the Center for the Study of Intelligence, where he managed programs in intelligence history, records declassification, and academic outreach and served as publisher and chairman of the editorial board of Studies in Intelligence, the journal of the profession. From 1990 to 1994, he was national intelligence officer for Latin America, the highest-ranking analytic position for that region in the U.S. intelligence community. Latell has consulted throughout the region with presidents, senior government officials, U.S. embassy officers, and regional leaders in diverse fields. He is frequently quoted in press coverage of political trends in Latin America, particularly of Cuba and Fidel Castro. He has written on Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, and other countries, as well as on foreign intelligence issues. He studied at universities in Mexico and Spain and has lived or traveled extensively in all but one of the Latin American countries.
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