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Posted January 21, 2009 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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By Dr. Brian Latell, author of After Fidel and Senior Research Associate at ICCAS.

(original title: Raul on his own)

During his record-making run as Cuba’s defense minister—longer he says than anyone in history—Raul Castro wisely shied from the limelight. But since last February when he assumed Cuba’s presidency he has had no choice but to assume a more public role, addressing Cuban audiences and meeting abroad with foreign leaders and reporters much more often than he would like. These demands have put him under unaccustomed new pressure. And, judging from his recent performances, he has been handling them so ineptly that his ability to govern credibly once Fidel is gone seems more in doubt than before.

It was always Fidel’s preference that his now seventy-seven year-old brother remain in the background, and not just because he never wanted to share the stage with anyone else. It was also because Fidel recognized Raul’s inability to deliver a good speech, to perform reliably under stress, or to improvise cleverly calibrated responses to foreign reporters’ probing questions.

Raul is awkward in the give-and-take of press conferences and interviews, and, knowing his limitations, in the past granted on average only about one every two years. He has never been able to deliver a stem-winder, to inspire or excite an audience. He is lacking not just in charismatic qualities but in the most elementary forensic and performance skills. He is lethargic, and often obviously stressed, when carrying out public duties. But most problematic is Raul’s propensity to stumble in public appearances, to say or do embarrassing things that sometimes leave his audiences squirming in embarrassment.

These deficiencies have probably never been so apparent as they were in December during his first foreign excursion as Cuba’s president. In Caracas, interacting with Venezuelan president Chavez, and later in Salvador, Brazil where he attended a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders, Raul frequently bungled in public. He was alternately diffident, clumsy, and outrageous, and may have been inebriated during an event in Brazil where he interacted in public with Chavez in the presence of other regional leaders. His mishaps, some of which were covered by the Cuban media, can only have diminished him in the eyes of all those who automatically tend to compare him to his brother.

Surely he wishes he could retract remarks made during a meeting with two foreign reporters in Salvador on December 15. A female journalist he remembered from her years of reporting from Havana asked at the outset if he remembered her. “You look prettier now,” was his uncouth response. “Commander, please!,” she responded in evident embarrassment.

Disconcerted after that, Raul was lackluster for the rest of that appearance. Asked about his expectations for the historic summit of the Rio Group of Latin American leaders—the first time a Cuban president was invited to attend—he was insipid. All he could say was that: “My first hope for the summit is that it be successful.” Anyone hearing that would have known how imaginatively and elaborately Fidel would have responded.

At another, televised gathering in Salvador, where Raul appeared to have had too much to drink, his performance bordered on buffoonery. Chavez was at the lectern freely pontificating, when he turned to Raul, seated nearby, and summoned him to speak. Obediently, Cuba’s president approached and for a minute or two found himself sheepishly under the Venezuelan’s enveloping arm.

But Chavez was noticeably uncomfortable when Raul ridiculed him. “I don’t talk as much as Chavez” he said, to the embarrassed laughter of many in the audience. “I even turn the volume down on my television when he is delivering his very long discourses.” The television camera then panned to a distinctly irritated Chavez.

Four days later in a speech at a luncheon held in his honor in Brasilia Raul strayed precipitously from what appeared to be a prepared text. “I will not go on for long, he interjected. “It is said Fidel’s speeches were long, though not as long as Chavez’s… I am less intelligent than they are, and cannot speak of many things, much less to improvise them.” The official Cuban government transcript of the speech included this strange, incriminating admission. How difficult it is to imagine another world leader, no matter how new to their job or clumsy as a public speaker, admitting to such limitations.

Raul’s relationship with Chavez has long been rumored to be a tortured one, and these interactions between the two only fuel such speculation. After all the decades of subordinating himself to the overbearing and demanding Fidel, it does not seem possible that Raul would now relish playing second fiddle to the bombastic Venezuelan. Chavez has been in power for about ten years now, and hosted Fidel on several occasions. But it was not evident until Raul spoke in Caracas on December 13 that he had apparently not also been welcomed and feted there. Raul mentioned that he was glad to be back in Venezuela again. But he revealed that his first visit had been fifty-five years earlier.

Back in Cuba, Raul delivered two major speeches to audiences of Cuban officials. Speaking to the National Assembly on December 27 he was at his dull, bureaucratic best. He was generally downbeat and dour, unfurling no new initiatives for Cuba’s prostrate economy. And on January 1, speaking in Santiago on the fiftieth anniversary of the revolution, he returned to the theme that has obsessed Cuba’s leaders since Fidel himself first broached it in November 2005. Thinking of the country’s disenchanted youth, he said “This country can destroy itself.”

But Cuba’s aged new leader who performs so poorly as a public communicator, and who openly admits his intellectual limitations, has done nothing in many months to increase his credibility as the moment seems to be approaching that Fidel will permanently depart the scene.

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  1. Follow up post #1 added on January 21, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    What a dummy.

    It finally dawned on me when Raul said he would allow people to build their own homes with these words: “They will be told, “OK, here you can build. I’ve given you this amount of space, that amount of room for a street, and that amount for a sidewalk. Now build your little home with whatever you can.”

    What a jerk.

    Before that he made a fool of himself when Sean Penn interviewed him and before that he made the stupid remark that he would release political prisoners if the US released the Cuban Five when confronted unexpectedly by a reporter when he was in Brazil.

    I had high hopes for him especially after he launched one reform after another shortly after becoming the official President of Cuba but now all this evidence shows me why he chooses not to speak in public too much.

    He’s not to intelligent or at the very least he is boring and/or scared of public speaking.

    This all sounds to me like a man who is depressed and wants to be fired from his job.

    Think about it. He hardly ever leaves the island, he has a job he doesn’t want, is reported to have a drinking problem and his wife died in June 2007.

    Now imagine his boss Fidel dies. Can you imagine the pressure on Raul from inside and outside of Cuba?

    Good luck Raul… if you even want it.

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  2. Follow up post #2 added on January 21, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    This just out by the AP

    President Raul Castro says Barack Obama “seems like a good man” and wishes him good luck.

    Castro made the comments Wednesday to reporters after an event at a Havana medical school. He did not elaborate.


    That’s it. The other couple paragraphs just talked about Obama and was filler.

    So, another great speech by Raul.

    Nice job Raul.

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  3. Follow up post #3 added on January 21, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I forgot to mention, Tracey Eaton who covered Cuba for many years for a Dallas newspaper was in the audience for Raul Castro’s New Year’s Eve speech to the Cuban people on the eve of the Anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.

    Let’s just say that people weren’t jumping up and down shouting “viva Raul”.

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  4. Follow up post #4 added on January 22, 2009 by bernie

    Yes: Raul may be reluctant???  But look at Obama saying that it will take one year to close down Guantamo?????

    Just how long is it going to take him to restore the rights of the citizens of the USA to be able to travel freely thruoput the world?????

    Also note that the goverment is not saying where they will be torturing in the future????

  5. Follow up post #5 added on January 22, 2009 by grant frame

    Raul is less tolerant of uncompleted work than Fidel, Expect fullfillment of cuotas or changes of ministers. He is a workaholic.  Cuba needs such men.

  6. Follow up post #6 added on January 22, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts


    This is the caption to this photo of Raul Castro:

    Cuban leader Raul Castro, left, with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, speaks to students. (Javier Galeano / Associated Press)

    But since a picture is worth a thousand words, I say Raul is drunk and President Fernandez is just a little bit embarrassed by his behavior. Maybe I am reading into this too much but how often do you see Raul this animated?


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  7. Follow up post #7 added on January 22, 2009 by paul

    So when is Raul going to close down the multiple and long standing equivalents of Guantanamo in Cuba?

    The answer is…nunca, y con el acceso negado a la CRI.

  8. Follow up post #8 added on January 22, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    You tell me if you think Raul is a bit more “animated” than normal.

    Either he is very happy about something or he is drunk.

    Video of Raul and President Fernandez at Jose Marti airport.

    I have never seen him this “happy”.

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  9. Follow up post #9 added on January 25, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Ray Sanchez: Cuba loyalists worry about post-Fidel void

    When a full-fledged riot against the government broke out on the seaside Malecon on a steamy late-summer day in 1994, Fidel Castro stopped the rock throwers in their tracks by appearing in the thick of the fray.

    “The same people who were throwing stones earlier started shouting, ‘Viva, Fidel!’” said Lourdes, 38, who witnessed the scene from her apartment window. “If there are problems on the street when they announce that Fidel has died, who will calm the people?”

    With questions persisting about the 82-year-old former president’s health, a growing number of Cuban government supporters are raising concerns about new social unrest.

    The latest was Castro biographer and longtime friend Ignacio Ramonet, who outlined mounting discontent within the Cuban elite last week in an article in the left-leaning Web site Rebelión.

    For the government of Raul Castro, 77, who assumed the presidency in February, Ramonet said, “In this time of serious difficulties due to the recent hurricanes and the international financial crisis, its central concern is to maintain unity in society.”

    Analysts as well as ordinary Cubans are divided about the chances of unrest in this tightly controlled society. But the events of Aug. 5, 1994 — during the hardship years following the collapse of the Soviet Union — serve as powerful reminders.

    That day, thousands of Cubans gathered after authorities intervened in a ferry hijacking. People smashed windows of shops catering to foreigners, threw stones at police and overturned patrol cars.

    Fidel Castro arrived in a jeep, waded into the protest and calmed the rioters by announcing that he would not stop anyone wanting to leave. People in inner tubes and rickety vessels hurled themselves from the seawall for the 90-mile journey to Florida. Nearly 40,000 Cubans left.

    Lourdes said new disturbances weren’t out of the question.

    “God knows we could have a repeat,” she said. “Raul can’t keep this together. The people aren’t with him. They want change.”

    Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst and Cuba expert, said a younger generation of Cubans has become frustrated by the lack of significant reforms under Raul Castro.

    “Expectations have been raised and not fulfilled, and you could postulate that there might be more pent up frustration, even anger, that could conceivably spill into the streets” following Fidel Castro’s death, Latell said.

    Ramonet, in his article, cited a growing chorus of Cuban intellectuals and artists who have expressed concerns about the failure to implement reforms. One of the more scathing critics was the popular Cuban singer Pablo Milanes.

    “I don’t trust any Cuban leader who is older than 75,” Milanes told a Madrid newspaper last month. “They all had their moments of glory, which were many, but they’re now ready to be retired.”

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  10. Follow up post #10 added on January 27, 2009 by pipefitter

    I think Felipe Perez Roque might just be a candidate for the next Cuban Leader.

  11. Follow up post #11 added on January 27, 2009 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    Pipefitter - lets hope you are wrong - that guy is just a thug. He was Fidel’s personal secretary and is the leader of the Taliban faction in the Cuban government. You may not remember but a few years back his goons beat up another country’s diplomat at the United Nations.

  12. Follow up post #12 added on January 27, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts


    Really. This guy is a young Fidel Castro without the brains or personality.

    Maybe it would be good if he became President of Cuba because he would be the last communist President of Cuba.

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  13. Follow up post #13 added on January 27, 2009 by pipefitter

    What about Carlos Lage Davilla? Hasn’t he been the one close to Raul and push for some change in Cuba?

  14. Follow up post #14 added on January 27, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    BIG difference.

    Lage is practical and not so much about idealogy like Perez Roque.

    Roque wants communism at all costs and fights the evil empire. Lage is all about making the economy work.

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