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Posted July 18, 2004 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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By TRACEY EATON | The Dallas Morning News

Officials declare Castros united, rejecting new book’s findings
He’s one of the most recognizable and controversial political figures of modern times. His younger brother is the world’s longest-serving defense minister. Fidel and Raul Castro form a political and economic dynasty that has dominated Cuba – and defied the United States – for more than half a century.

But now a recent book, On the Brink, says that the brothers have been locked in a power struggle since Fidel Castro fainted during a speech on a sweltering June 2001 day, touching off questions about the socialist regime’s future.

Ricardo Pascoe, the former Mexican ambassador to Cuba, writes that Fidel Castro decided against turning power over to his brother after the fainting episode because an internal government poll found that most Cubans were against that.

So the Cuban president began to delegate much of the day-to-day operation of the government to Vice President Carlos Lage, Mr. Pascoe writes, infuriating Raul Castro and leading him to hide information from his brother.

Cuban officials speaking on condition of anonymity disputed the book’s findings.

“Fidel and Raul operate as one. They are a team,” one official said. “And Raul’s loyalty to Fidel is unconditional.”

Experts agree that the brothers have had significant disputes that have shaped Cuba over the years. For a time in the 1990s, for instance, they briefly stopped speaking to each other, said Frank Mora, a professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., who has studied and written about the Cuban armed forces.

Raul Castro favored economic reforms similar to the ones sweeping China, Mr. Mora said. But his older brother was against that, fearing a loss of political control.

“Still, to say that there is some kind of power struggle between the two brothers, I simply do not buy that,” Mr. Mora said. “Raul has always been very, very loyal to his brother Fidel.”

Despite the power Raul Castro wields, he doesn’t question his brother’s authority, a former Cuban intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.

“He is incapable of that and would not move even a finger to try to challenge Fidel’s power,” the former official said.

Raul Castro does get into heated discussions with his brother, Mr. Mora said.

“Fidel allows for debate within his inner circle,” he said. “But when he decides the debate is over, there is no questioning, no challenging and no criticizing of his position.

Fidel Castro, who has ruled Cuba since 1959, will turn 78 on Aug. 13. Raul turned 73 on June 3.

The former Cuban intelligence official said there is a power struggle going on between those loyal to Fidel Castro the fidelistas and those working under Raul Castro the raulistas.

“One of the fights is over the money that the tourism industry creates,” the former official said. “People are preparing for the future. They’re trying to place themselves in positions where they’ll benefit when Fidel’s gone and the economy opens up.”

The official, who knows Raul Castro personally, said he finds it interesting that the younger brother and his Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FAR by its Spanish initials, have amassed considerable control over much of the economy and the political system in recent years.

Dozens of current and former soldiers and intelligence officials work in tourism, hotels, restaurants, the sugar industry, mining, aviation and the Interior Ministry, responsible for maintaining security, he said.

“All of those sectors that’s where a lot of the real power is. It’s not so much in the Communist Party,” he said.

Under Raul Castro’s command, the FAR has been Cuba’s most stable and best managed official institution, according to a study by Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst who is director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Giving current and former military officers key roles in the tourism industry and other enterprises may help guarantee their loyalty after Fidel Castro’s death, Mr. Latell said.

But some troop commanders and staff officers could protest if they feel they’re not getting a fair share of the economic perks, he said. Another downside to officers’ involvement in business is that some aren’t qualified, he said.

“The politically safe decision to put trusted raulista officers in charge of for-profit enterprises may make little economic sense,” he wrote. “Career military men, many with combat decorations and limited previous contact with civilian professionals, cannot be expected easily to transcend the rigidities and biases of their bureaucratic culture.”

And still another possibility is that giving military officers exposure to capitalistic ventures will make them more prone to corruption, experts say.

Whatever happens, experts say, current and former Cuban soldiers will play a critical role in the future of the country after the Castro brothers are gone.

“Key officers involved in the FAR’s enterprises are loyal to Raul Castro, and their entrepreneurial successes are linked to the survivability of the regime,” Cuba expert Armando Mastrapa wrote in a study called “Soldiers and Businessmen.”

  1. Follow up post #1 added on July 18, 2004 by I-taoist with 213 total posts

    In Cayo Largo I made friends with a former military officer who was in charge of the tourist store retail sales.  He was a decent enough fellow who was thoroughly indoctrinated in the socialist/communist doctrine “for the good of all the people.”  We were both veterans of foreign wars so that made our bond tighter.  The irony was that he handled tens of thousands of US dollars weekly for the government while living in military barracks type housing with his wife, with a small apartment in Havana provided.  Most tourist workers live away from their jobs and travel there for work periods of a four to six weeks balanced by time off and return home.  His salary per month was $40 US.  You can understand the temptations he faced daily.  He was an honorable man and I did not suspect him of corruption. But with such a preposterous arrangement of compensation for monies handled and responsibilities assumed he may have been the exception.  He also showed the loyalty to the “collective experiment” and Castro’ ideals that herald those who help hold together the Cuban state. 

  2. Follow up post #2 added on July 19, 2004 by MJD

    I reading I-taoist comments about Cuban military official he met with to discuss socialist ideology. Please are you so naive ? Of course he’ skimming.He told you what you wanted to hear. How can a family live on $ 40 a month ??

  3. Follow up post #3 added on July 19, 2004 by MJD

    I reading I-taoist comments about Cuban military official he met with to discuss socialist ideology. Please are you so naive ? Of course he’ skimming.He told you what you wanted to hear. How can a family live on $ 40 a month ??

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