Tuesday October 6, 2009
INTERVIEW – Raul runs Cuba like 'military corporation'-author
By Pascal Fletcher
MIAMI (Reuters) – Cuban President Raul Castro and his army are running
Cuba like a "military corporation" and former leader Fidel Castro
maintains a powerful voice on the board, a Cuba expert says in a new
book published on Tuesday.
Cuba's President Raul Castro in Havana September 30, 2009. Castro and
his army are running Cuba like a "military corporation" and former
leader Fidel Castro maintains a powerful voice on the board, a Cuba
expert says in a new book published on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Enrique De La
"Without Fidel. A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington" by
journalist, author and Cuba-watcher Ann Louise Bardach seeks to shed
light on the circumstances surrounding Fidel Castro's near-death from
colon surgery in 2006 and his handover last year to his younger brother,
Bardach, who has met both Castros in a dozen research and writing trips
to Cuba, says the February 2008 handover and a government purge in March
this year put the Communist-run island's immediate future in the hands
of Raul Castro, 78.
She describes him in the book as a "socialist reformer of sorts"
equipped with a "Darwinian imperative of survival" but says he has "an
indisputable charisma deficit" in his public persona when compared with
his more famous elder brother.
Bardach says former defense minister Raul Castro, backed by Cuba's
powerful Revolutionary Armed Forces and a clique of pro-Castro
revolutionary veterans in their seventies and eighties, are trying to
keep intact and afloat a Cuban economy that she says is "crumbling like
a stale cookie".
"Raul and his army … it's this military corporation that is the CEO of
Cuba," the author told Reuters in an interview.
She saw the Cuban military, through its powerful commercial corporations
like GAESA and Gaviota, increasingly taking over key segments of the
economy, including tourism.
"I think Raul will eventually move to what he always wanted to move to,
the Chinese and Vietnamese model," Bardach added, referring to the
younger Castro's attempts to introduce capitalist-style managerial
practices into Cuba's centralized socialist economy in a bid to boost
output and efficiency.
But the book makes clear that Fidel Castro, now 83, who ruled as supreme
leader of the Caribbean's largest island for almost half a century after
heading the 1959 Cuban Revolution, remains a hugely influential voice in
"I wouldn't know if it's as strong as veto power, (but) one does not
displease him," she said, referring to the way Fidel Castro — whom she
calls the "Pundit-in-Chief" — makes his opinions known in regular
columns published by state media.
"ICON OF ENDURANCE"
Bardach says Fidel Castro has "swatted away ten American presidents as
if they were so many pesky flies" and sees him as trying to put a brake
on any attempts to dilute Cuba's one-party Communist system through
"Fidel pounded that message that (former Soviet president Mikhail)
Gorbachev brought down the Soviet Union, that perestroika and glasnost
were the beginning of the end and that they (Cuba's rulers) will never
make that mistake," she said.
The collapse after 1989 of the Soviet bloc, the island's main ally and
benefactor for decades, plunged Cuba into a deep crisis in the early
1990s to which Fidel Castro responded by maintaining tight political
control under a "Socialism or Death" slogan while introducing limited
Bardach believed it could still take time for the United States and Cuba
to dismantle the enmity that has characterized their relations for a
half century — largely symbolized by the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo
against the island.
"The Castros cannot maintain their steely control if the embargo ends
… they are fighting for their economic lives," Bardach said. She
suggested that "piecemeal" moves by U.S. President Barack Obama's
administration to improve U.S.-Cuban ties, including some slight easing
of the embargo recently, suited the hard-pressed Cuban leadership.
"The Cubans are getting everything they want right now, because they do
not want the U.S. embargo to end overnight, there is absolutely no
infrastructure (in Cuba) to absorb what would happen, they would be
destroyed by it," she said.
Bardach believes Raul Castro would seek to preserve the Revolution. "The
revolution meaning control," she said.
Her latest book, published by Scribner, cites multiple sources on and
off the island to penetrate the bubble of secrecy surrounding Fidel
Castro's personal life.
She says the ailing Fidel cried in 2006 when risky initial surgery
failed to cure his intestinal illness, and recounts he has sired 11
children, four more than previously reported,
The book also dedicates a section to two of Fidel Castro's most
notorious enemies and would-be assassins — Cuban exiles Orlando Bosch
and Luis Posada.
Bardach admits that despite its title "Without Fidel", her book largely
chronicles his endurance: "Friends and foes, critics, mortal enemies
acknowledge he's a Titanic figure".
But she added: "I was never wowed by the charisma factor".
A previous book published in 2002, "Cuban Confidential: Love and
Vengeance in Miami and Havana", also covered the tangled
conspiracy-strewn politics of U.S.-Cuban relations.
(Editing by Jim Loney and Paul Simao)
INTERVIEW – Raul runs Cuba like 'military corporation'-author (6 October