Expert says Raul Castro acting as a kind of regent in Cuba
June, 20 - 3:40 PM
Expert says Raul Castro acting as "a kind of regent" in Cuba
Miami.– The transition of power in Cuba from the nearly exclusive grip of Fidel Castro has begun, with the ruler's younger brother Raul taking more control as "a kind of regent," a top academic specialist on the
Communist-governed island says.
The appraisal comes from Brian Latell, one of the most knowledgeable and respected U.S. specialists on Cuba, who was a longtime CIA analyst and now teaches at the University of Miami.
Latell's recent book, "After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next Leader," has been controversial in Miami and among Cuban dissident groups.
Latell contends that after the death of the nearly 80-year-old Fidel Castro, the Cuban Revolution will be in the hands of one man: Raul Castro.
Raul, Fidel's younger brother, turned 75 on June 3.
Raul Castro "controls the armed forces and security services, as well as a large part of the economy," the 65-year-old Latell said, adding that "top civilian and military leaders are likely to rally around him, at
least in the beginning, because to do otherwise would invite disaster for all of them."
Latell, who has studied every speech, gesture and obsession of the Cuban leader since 1964, said that Fidel's "mental and physical condition has conspicuously deteriorated over the last two years or so."
"He will soon be 80 years old and is suffering from Parkinson's disease, and probably other serious ailments. His public performances have become
embarrassments for all who witness them because now he frequently rambles into incoherence when speaking," Latell said.
As a result, Raul Castro "has been playing a more important leadership role. I believe he is already, in effect, a kind of regent, amending, interpreting and filtering Fidel's decisions. So, yes, the leadership
transformation most likely has already begun," Latell said.
Asked whether it was possible that repression might increase and martial law might be declared after Castro's death, Latell said "it certainly is possible that popular manifestations for change will occur on the island soon after Fidel's disappearance from power."
"The younger generation of Cubans is especially alienated and disenfranchised. They have suffered only hardships and economic deprivation since the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991 and have little or no memories of better, more heroic revolutionary days," Latell said.
"Like many older Cubans, they are anxious for liberating change and many could go into the streets after Fidel is gone to demand a better life," the former CIA analyst said.
"In that event, the successor regime would react forcefully, first employing civilian police and undercover agents" to end the protests, "but if demonstrations were large or widespread they might have to use the military against civilians," Latell said.
Regarding the possibility that Cuba could undergo a peaceful transition to democracy, as happened in many countries of the former Soviet bloc, Latell said "such an ideal future is possible in Cuba, but there will be many factors mitigating against it." "Many ranking officers would probably refuse orders to kill innocent civilians in the streets, and, therefore, the possibility exists that the military under Raul's command would split," Latell said.
"Such events could cause the rupture of a successor regime and the beginning of serious conflict on the island," Latell said.
Therefore, "it is impossible to estimate how long Raul Castro would be able to preserve power, assuming that he follows his brother in power," Latell said, noting that "Raul is also untested as premier decision maker because Fidel has always monopolized decision making and crisis management."
"Raul lacks nearly all of Fidel's most important leadership qualities.
He is an awkward public speaker. He is not charismatic, and, in reality, is disliked and feared by most Cubans," Latell said.
Latell, moreover, noted that Raul Castro "is known to drink excessively." "What if he got drunk when faced with his first internal political crisis?" Latell asked.
Regardless, Latell said, "a successor regime – possibly even one led by Raul Castro - would initiate a gradual process of transformation," since Raul "appears to disagree now with many of Fidel's policies and priorities, and if in power in his own right, he may want to move Cuba in dramatically different directions."
"But I do not believe that Raul will be attracted to (former Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev's reform models. Instead, it is the Chinese political-economic model that most likely appeals to him. He will seek
to maintain tight political control over the populace, but no doubt recognizes the imperative of improving their living conditions and providing them more opportunities," Latell said.
Cuba: Expert says Raul Castro acting as a kind of regent in Cuba