Sunday, February 24, 2008

Raúl Castro Will Be Chosen as Cuba's President

"Even when Fidel Castro underwent intestinal surgery in 2006 and Raúl Castro became Cuba's acting president, Raúl didn't make a public appearance for two weeks, until after photos assured the country that Fidel was alive." CNN (2-20-08)

Today Cuba's 31-member Council of Ministers will choose Cuba's new new head of state. Castro's younger brother Raul Castro, who has been the acting president since 2006 and the head of the Cuban Army for 50 years, will almost certainly be elected.

Raul Castro is 76 years old. He was born on June 3, 1931 and may only be Fidel Castro's half-brother, because the Batista army loyalist Felipe Miraval is rumored to be Raul's biological father.

As youngsters, Raul and his brothers were expelled from the Catholic school they attended after the priest told their father that they were "the three biggest bullies" ever to attend his school.

If Raul wants any improvement in relations with the US, the schoolyard bully might release more than only four non-violent political prisoners it has jailed.

José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, 50, a journalist who wrote articles critical of the regime and was one of four dissidents released this week, told The Sunday Telegraph (2-23-08):

Nothing will change with the resignation of Castro. He will still be manipulating things behind the scenes...His resignation could be a small step but I have my reservations. We were only released because (Castro) wants to clean up his image as a human rights violator. He is still present. He is a ghost governing the country.

The London Times (2-8-08) reports:

[Raul Castro] controls the three most powerful institutions in Cuba – the military, the security services and Communist Party – and has no real challenger in sight.

“Fidel has been the visionary, but hopelessly disorganised," said Brian Latell, a retired CIA officer and author of 'After Fidel', a biography of the Castro brothers. “Raúl has provided the organisational glue. That's why he has been the one truly indispensable man in the revolution, other than Fidel himself.”

Wikipedia reports that in the early 1950s while he was in exile in Mexico, Raul "reportedly befriended Ernesto "Ché" Guevara in Mexico City and brought him into Fidel's circle of revolutionaries." During his sojourn in Mexico, Raul also resumed an earlier relationship begun on a 1953 trans-Atlantic voyage (see page 37) with a young Russian named Nikolai Leonov, who eventually became the KGB's leading Latin American expert and a high official in the First Chief Directorate (foreign intelligence) of the KGB.

In 2003, Nikolai Leonov was elected to the lower house of the Russian parliament as a member of the Motherland or Rodina Party. Leonov is reportedly a friend and mentor to his former subordinate Vladimir Putin.

Leonov's contact Raul was the leftist Castro brother. Once in power, Raul's brother Fidel claimed that he was already a Marxist-Leninist in 1953 when he began his guerrilla war against Batista, but the word "socialism" never appeared in Castro's speeches until 1961. Fidel had an affluent upbringing and reportedly drew his political inspiration from the radical nationalist Partido del Pueblo Cubana and from its anti-Marxist founder Eduardo Chibas (The World Was Going Our Way, p. 33)

Wikipedia reports:

Chibás is considered to have had influence on Fidel Castro's views but his name is not mentioned in today's Cuba because he was avowedly anti-communist. However, Fidel Castro wrote an essay praising him, published in the Communist Youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde on August 26, 2007.

In 1992, when the KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin defected to the British, he brought with him notes he had taken based on KGB archival materials that documented KGB activities abroad. Mitrokhin teamed up with the Cambridge historian Christopher Andrew and published a book that contains information about KGB activities in Cuba called The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World. Google books has excerpted some passages about the KGB in Cuba here and here.

Beginning on page 27, National Public Radio has excerpted a long passage from the book that discusses KGB views about Central and South America. I have cited only the NPR excerpt that deals with Leonov below:

The serious interest of the Centre (KGB headquarters) and subsequently of the Kremlin in the possibility of challenging the United States in its own backyard was first aroused by the emergence of a new generation of charismatic Latin American revolutionary leaders, chief among them Fidel Castro. The KGB's leading Latin American expert, Nikolai Leonov, who was the first to make contact with Castro, wrote later, "Cuba forced us to take a fresh look at the whole continent, which until then had traditionally occupied the last place in the Soviet leadership's system of priorities." The charismatic appeal of Castro and "Che" Guevara extended far beyond Latin America. Though the Western "New Left" of the 1960s had little interest in the increasingly geriatric leadership of the Soviet Union, it idolized both Castro and Guevara, lavishing on them the uncritical adulation which much of the Old Left had bestowed on Stalin's supposed worker peasant state in the 1930s. Che Guevara T-shirts on American campuses comfortably outnumbered, even in presidential election years, those bearing the likeness of any US politician alive or dead. Though there was much that was genuinely admirable in Cuban health-care and educational initiatives, despite the increasingly authoritarian nature of the Cuban one-party state, the radical pilgrims to Havana in the 1960s were as uncritical as those to Moscow in the 1930s of whom Malcolm Muggeridge had written, "Their delight in all they saw and were told, and the expression they gave to that delight, constitute unquestionably one of the wonders of our age." One of the wonders of the 1960s was delight such as that expressed by the political economist Paul Sweezy after his pilgrimage to Cuba:

"To be with these people, to see with your own eyes how they are rehabilitating and transforming a whole nation, to share their dreams of the great tasks and achievements that lie ahead – these are purifying and liberating experiences. You come away with your faith in the human race restored."

Though sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution, Frances Fitzgerald accurately noted that "many North American radicals who visit Cuba or who live there have performed a kind of surgery on their critical faculties and reduced their conversation to a kind of baby talk, in which everything is wonderful, including the elevator that does not work and the rows of Soviet tanks on military parade that are in the ''hands of the people."

Similar examples of self-administered brain surgery proliferated across both the West and the Third World. Even Jean-Paul Sartre, despite his global reputation for rigorous philosophical analysis, became for a period almost incoherent in his hero-worship:

"Among these fully awake men, at the height of their powers, sleeping doesn't seem like a natural need, just a routine of which they had more or less freed themselves . . .They have excluded the routine alternation of lunch and dinner from their daily programme.

. . . Of all these night watchmen, Castro is the most wide awake. Of all these fasting people, Castro can eat the most and fast the longest . . . [They] exercise a veritable dictatorship over their own needs . . . they roll back the limits of the possible."

Castro's emergence, after some hesitations, as a reliable pro-Moscow loyalist was of immense importance for both Soviet foreign policy and KGB operations. Had he shared much of the New Left's scornful attitude to the bloated Soviet bureaucracy and its increasingly geriatric leadership, siding instead with the Prague Spring and other manifestations of "Socialism with a human face" (as many expected him to do after the tanks of the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968), Castro would have added to Moscow's problems instead of becoming one of its greatest international assets. With Castro and other charismatic Latin American revolutionaries on its side against American imperialism, the prestige of the Soviet Union in the Third World was enormously enhanced and its ageing revolutionary image rejuvenated.

It was often the KGB, rather than the Foreign Ministry, which took the lead role in Latin America. As Khrushchev later acknowledged, the first Soviet ambassador to Castro's Cuba "turned out to be unsuited for service in a country just emerging from a revolution" and had to be replaced by the KGB resident, who proved to be "an excellent choice." Nikolai Leonov later described how he had also"'worked with many [other] Latin American leaders . . . to help them as far as possible in their anti-American stance." The first contacts with Salvador Allende before his election as President of Chile in 1970 and with Juan and Isabel Peron before their return to Argentina in 1973 were also made by the KGB rather than by a Soviet diplomat. KGB contacts with the Sandinistas began almost two decades before their conquest of power in Nicaragua in 1979. As Leonov acknowledged, the initiative frequently came from the Centre's Latin American experts:

"We ourselves developed the programme of our actions, orienting ourselves . . . I might as well admit that sometimes we also wanted to attract attention to ourselves, to present our work as highly significant. This was to protect the Latin American direction in intelligence from withering away and dying out. On the whole we managed to convince the KGB leadership that Latin America represented a politically attractive springboard, where anti-American feeling was strong ..." (pages 27-30).

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