Welcome to The Latell Report. The Report, analyzing Cuba’s contemporary domestic and foreign policy, is published monthly except August and December 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).
The Raulista Succession Intrinsically Unstable?
Judging from official Cuban government media coverage in recent weeks, Raul Castro’s place as first in the line of succession continues to be reinforced. His ascension has been evident since the unprecedented depth of reporting that began with his 75th birthday on June 3. He, but not Fidel, was reported by Granma to have received a standing ovation during the plenum of the communist party on June 1 that ratified the installation of prominent raulistas on the newly reconstituted party Secretariat. Long in control of the day-to-day affairs of the military and security services, Raul now also controls the central operational organ of the party. These are the three most powerful institutions on the island.
As Raul assumes broader responsibility it is appropriate to speculate about how a successor regime he seems likely to dominate would fare. In all of my commentaries on this subject I have declined to estimate how long Raul might last in power after Fidel dies or is incapacitated. The variables that will suddenly come into play at that time will be so complex and numerous that any predictions can be tenuous at best and thus the range of opinion on this transcending question is broad.
Many observers doubt that Raul could remain sober and steadfast enough to last for more than perhaps a few weeks or months in power. Others hold that he will successfully preside for a number of years, as long perhaps as his health holds up. The former mainly emphasize Raul’s well known leadership deficiencies; the latter his exceptional organizational skills and experience running Cuba’s most important institutions.
The question then boils down to whether his leadership strengths will outweigh his weaknesses. Surely, he will be handicapped, severely at first, because he will in no way resemble Fidel in power and because popular anxieties will be high. He will have little room for error.
Until recently, Fidel has made every important decision, managing domestic and international crises and communicating new policy initiatives. He has been a titanic force, the personification of the revolution, the galvanizing glue that has held it all together. The concentration of power all these years in Fidel’s hands could therefore prove to be one of his most destabilizing legacies. It is impossible to imagine that Raul, or any other leader, could even approximate Fidel’s performance.
I described most of Raul’s deficiencies and flaws in After Fidel. Since the 1950s he has been feared and hated by many Cubans, and for good reason, because at different times he was the regime’s principal executioner, its foremost Stalinist, a merciless hardliner on social and cultural matters, and a draconian enforcer of Fidel’s whims. Raul is a plodding, maladroit public speaker, and has never been able to sway a crowd or inspire an audience with his own uplifting visions. It was Che Guevara who in 1960 said of him, “I love Raul . . . enormously. He is a remarkable man, but he does not have the same direct influence on the country as Fidel.”
Raul is linear and straightforward where Fidel is known for his leaps of imagination. Raul is cautious and practical whereas Fidel is typically audacious and extreme. By the accounts of family and former friends and colleagues, Raul, unlike his brother, agonizes and temporizes when unpleasant decisions must be made. He is methodical –consulting and collaborating with others— while Fidel acts with alacrity and self-confidence.
Raul has made no effort to pretend that he enjoys an intellectual life. His leisure reading tastes are low brow and in his capacity as defense minister he typically demands that briefs be condensed to about a page. He has admitted on the record to having completed only about a half dozen years of formal education. As a teenager he was ejected from the prestigious Belen prep school in Havana, where Fidel earlier had prospered. Raul returned to the family lands in Oriente where he says he did manual labor and worked in a warehouse. He does not admit, however, that it was during that extended period of rustic exile when he began drinking excessively.
He has never managed a national-level crisis on his own. He has always deferred to Fidel who has rarely ever delegated such responsibilities. What if Raul were to resort to hard drinking as he faced his first major crisis after taking power? In his bizarre performance in a nationally televised speech on June 14, 1989 when he condemned the soon to be executed General Arnaldo Ochoa, he was probably inebriated as the tensions of that crisis became all but unbearable.
If Raul indeed follows Fidel in power will he be able to overcome or somehow compensate for his deficiencies of intellect, charisma, experience, leadership, popularity, and possibly physical vigor? And as important, will he be able somehow to begin satisfying the pent up demands of the Cuban people for better living conditions? He likely plans to provide them with bread, rather than Fidel’s revolutionary circuses, but how effectively he communicates his intentions will be a critical variable affecting the stability of his regime.
On balance, my own tentative estimate is entirely consistent with wording in the inter-agency report of President Bush’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, notably that: “ Fidel Castro and his inner circle have begun a gradual but intrinsically unstable process of succession.” (emphasis added.)
Dr. Brian Latell, distinguished Cuba analyst and recent author of the book, After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro’s Regime and Cuba’s Next Leader, is a Senior Research Associate at ICCAS. He has informed American and foreign presidents, cabinet members, and legislators about Cuba and Fidel Castro in a number of capacities. He served in the early 1990s as National Intelligence Officer for Latin America at the Central Intelligence Agency and taught at Georgetown University for a quarter century. Dr. Latell has written, lectured, and consulted extensively.