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Many are asking: Where's Raúl Castro?
Two days after Cuban leader Fidel Castro handed the reins of power to his brother Raúl, the newly named acting president has yet to appear in public.

While experts speculate that the defense minister-turned-president is busy in high-level meetings mobilizing the armed forces -- or even planning his brother's funeral -- the question remained: Where is Raúl?

''Raúl should make a speech, let us know he's around,'' said Eugenio, who makes a living driving a taxi in Havana and declined to provide his last name.

A man widely considered to be the world's longest-serving minister of defense now finds himself catapulted into one of the most powerful jobs in the hemisphere. But it remains to be seen whether Raúl Castro -- a killer in the 1950s, super-efficient organizer of a powerful army and considered by some to be a potential economic reformer -- can step from his brother's shadow to lead Cuba.

Raúl Castro's lack of visibility underscores the vast differences between the brothers, who have been at each other's sides in government for 47 years, but with considerable differences in style.

Where Fidel loves the limelight, Raúl appears to abhor it. Where Fidel is a one-man show who relies largely on his own instincts, Raúl is a consummate team player who solicits opinions.

Surrounded by trusted loyalists, Raúl Castro runs the armed forces, one of Cuba's most successful institutions. He was at the helm when the military was fat at more than 150,000 members with Soviet money and equipment -- and presided when it needed to be slimmed down to about 50,000 and converted into a haven for commercial entrepreneurs.


Experts say the publicity-shy younger brother offers a sound management style backed by the allegiance of his troops.

'' Raúl is human. Fidel is not,'' said Roberto Ortega, a former colonel who headed medical services for the armed forces and who now lives in Miami. "But don't misunderstand me: Raúl has been doing Fidel's dirty work for years.''

Fidel Castro announced Monday night that a heavy travel schedule triggered intestinal bleeding and required ''complicated'' surgery, so after 47 years running Cuba he was temporarily turning authority over to his brother.

Their sister Juanita Castro, who owns a pharmacy in Miami, said she learned via a telephone call she made Wednesday morning to an unidentified person on the island that her brother was out of intensive care.

''That's all they would tell me,'' she said.

Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón, interviewed Wednesday by Democracy Now!, a New York City-based independent TV program, said he spoke to Fidel Castro Monday and again Tuesday about world affairs.

''I must say that he's perfectly conscious,'' Alarcón said. "He's in very good spirits, as always.''

In another interview, with National Public Radio Alarcón declined to say what illness Castro was suffering from but he acknowledged that "it is a serious matter.''

Experts say Raúl could be taking the back stage because Fidel is still alive, alert and calling the shots. If Fidel is expected to recover, Cuba watchers say, then it would be important for the Cuban government to project the notion that they have one president: Fidel.

Raúl is probably busy mobilizing forces to be on alert but will raise suspicions if he does not appear publicly soon, experts said.

''I knew he would not be on the Round Table [Cuban government TV show] Tuesday night -- that's just not his style,'' dissident journalist Miriam Leiva said by phone from Havana. "But now it's been 48 hours and he hasn't shown his face. That's strange.''

And so while Raúl is considered far less doctrinaire than Fidel on economic issues and likely to consider some reforms along the lines of China's system, no drastic moves are expected soon.

''As long as Fidel is alive, there won't be any change of any sort,'' said Richard Gott, author of the book, Cuba: A New History. 'It would be impossible for him to change things and then have Fidel come back and say, 'What on Earth have you been doing in my absence?' ''

Despite living in his brother's shadow for more than 50 years, Raúl has had ''an extraordinary career,'' Gott said.

The Castro brothers were raised in the eastern village of Birán and both attended Belén Jesuit school in Havana. The school later moved to Miami. They took up arms together at the start of the revolution in 1953 and were both jailed.

Armando Lago, an economist compiling a list of every person killed in the name of the Cuban revolution, says that as a governor of Oriente province, Raúl Castro was personally responsible for 550 executions in 1959 alone. About 100 of them took place without a trial, Lago said.

''He's ruthless. He loves blood,'' Lago said. "He personally gave coup de grace shots. Fidel has never done that. But he reorganized the military, made them all rich, and the military is the only thing that works in Cuba.

"I think it's a disaster. I don't think this guy can lead Cuba anywhere with his record of executions.''

Former CIA analyst Brian Latell, author of After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next Leader, said Raúl has management qualities Fidel lacks. He's a great backroom dealer and is more inclusive in his decision making, Latell said.

But the 75-year-old is known to have a drinking problem.

''He certainly has had a record of terrible, terrible brutality and cruelty, but I don't think he's a sociopath,'' Latell said. "Raúl shares. Fidel doesn't share.''


But virtually all experts agreed that Raúl's largest failing is that he doesn't have his brother's personal appeal.

''He can mobilize the army but he doesn't have the charisma to mobilize the people,'' said Berta Mexidor, founder of Cuba's independent library system who now lives in Mississippi. "He is a strong man, a military man, but he is also an old man.''

Fidel Castro has stressed the importance of tapping into a new generation of younger leaders. A new Communist Party executive committee named last month included several younger, longtime loyalists.

When Castro doled responsibilities to his trusted inner circle Monday night, he included Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque, 41, and 54-year-old Vice President Carlos Lage -- but left out Alarcón, who is 69.

Raúl ''doesn't have the intelligence of Fidel, or the charisma. He rings false,'' said former rebel leader Huber Matos, who arrived here in 1979 after 20 years in prison. "If you sit down with him, it doesn't take long to realize this is a guy trying to be something he's not. It will be difficult for Raúl to run Cuba. Very difficult.''
10 Aug 2006 by admin
The Havana Journal

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