Cuba Politics

Succession of Cuba leadership gets complicated - Opinion

Posted June 14, 2005 by I-taoist in Cuba Politics.

Carlos Alberto Montaner

If Fidel Castro decided to die today, the wake would be full of people more nervous than mournful. Raúl, his brother and heir, might not find it so simple to assume power, much less exercise it effectively. Once again, powerful testimony has surfaced about his very close links to the Medellín drug cartel during the 1980s, a disclosure that would be devastating for any head of state.

Strange as it may seem, in this capricious world of ours it is more serious and disqualifying to be a drug trafficker and accomplice in the shipment to the United States and Europe of tons of drugs than to be responsible for thousands of executions and abuses against democrats and dissidents.

Drug connection

The news came to light some weeks ago in a report from Television Española. The source was John Jairo Velásquez, better known as ‘‘Popeye,’’ right-hand man and chief of security of Pablo Escobar, the Medellín Cartel capo who was gunned down in 1993. From the Bogotá prison where he is held for murder, Popeye gave all kinds of details about the close relations between Raúl Castro and the Colombian drug barons. His testimony was very similar, of course, to that given by another Colombian drug trafficker, Carlos Lehder, some years ago.

Without wasting a second, the Cuban government tried to raise doubts about Popeye’s truthfulness—he’s planning to publish his memoirs under the Churchillian title of Blood, Betrayal and Death. But the Colombian hit man’s assertions match to the millimeter the information already in the DEA’s hands, including photographs that show how military bases on the island are used for the unloading and reshipment of drugs.

Those who know how Cuba’s intelligence and armed forces operate find it absolutely impossible to believe that those operations could be carried out without the knowledge and approval of the high command, most especially of Raúl Castro, competent and meticulous chief of the military apparatus for more than four decades.


The next step in this truculent episode lies halfway between diplomacy and justice. It is possible that the United States, a victim of the drug-trafficking operations authorized and backed by Raúl Castro, may ask the Colombian government to demand the extradition of the illustrious brother so that he may respond to these accusations in a court room, inasmuch as he’s not protected by any kind of immunity.

After all, if Popeye’s testimony served to indict former Colombian Senator Alberto Santofimio Botero for instigating in 1989 the assassination of liberal leader and presidential hopeful Luis Carlos Galán, it could hardly be ignored in the case of Gen. Raúl Castro.

That petition would also coincide with another made recently by Jose Basulto, lead pilot of Brothers to the Rescue, who in 1996 was the target of an attack by Cuban military planes against his fleet of three unarmed civilian planes over international waters. The attack ended in the downing of two planes and four young men murdered, a deed for which Basulto quite justifiably blames Raúl Castro directly.

Naturally, nobody expects Fidel Castro to turn his brother over to Colombian justice, much less to U.S. justice. But the political impact of this renewed scandal could totally derail the succession plan in Cuba.


Cuba’s military brass, the Communist Party, the Interior Ministry and government agencies are convinced that after the comandante’s death they will desperately need a figure that will give international legitimacy to an unpopular, tottering and totally anachronistic regime. The ruling elite cannot look kindly upon the rise to head of state of a person stigmatized by drug trafficking.

Also, it would be highly dangerous, as shown in the case of Panama after the invasion that toppled Noriega in December 1989. Nobody in the world moved a finger to protect him. It is very difficult to defend drug traffickers.

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