- In-Country Power
- International Power
- Military Strength
- Special Skill: Uncannily Un-Charismatic
- Official Title: President
- Government: Communism/Dictatorship
- Years Left in Office: Life
- Political Classification: Left
- Education: Studied Political Science at the U. of Havana
- Age: 89 (born June 3, 1931)
Raúl Castro Facts and Information
- Raúl Castro is the President of Cuba and General of the Armed Forces
- Raúl Castro has basically been second in command to his brother Fidel since 1959
- Raúl Castro has allowed some opening of the economy, and hinted at more to come, since taking full power in 2008
- Raúl Castro will be critically important in deciding the fate of Cuba once Fidel dies and economic/political change becomes imminent.
Riddle me this my plaid friends: Who’s the chief commie in charge of those Cubans now that Fidel Castro has conceded to his calamitous health conditions? If you answered “the other Castro” then you’re spot-on. That’s right; the current President of Cuba is yet another Castro, Raúl Castro to be exact. After nearly fifty years in power, Fidel stepped down in 2006 due to his deteriorating health and promptly handed over the reins to little brother Raúl to continue the communist legacy. So who is this mysterious character? Let’s find out…
Travel back to the Cuba of the 1950s, to the capital city of Havana. You’d find a bustling playground for rich Americans, complete with all of the narcotics, prostitution, and gambling of modern day Vegas. (see this depicted very accurately in The Godfather Part 2) While this spelled fortune for some Cubans, most were still struggling in poverty and becoming more and more distrustful of a corrupt government led by an unelected dictator named Fulgencio Batista.
The scene was set for revolution and Team Castro were happy to oblige. On July 26, 1953 the brothers led an attack on a military barracks in Cuba. The uprising did not go well and the Castro boys were arrested, convicted, and sent to a jail in Mexico City. It was during this time that they reportedly befriended the future communist poster-boy and all-around revolutionary bad-ass Ernesto “Che” Guevara…and then convinced him to join their communist cause in Cuba.
These three amigos (Fidel, Raúl, & Che) and about 100 other revolutionaries sailed to Cuba in 1956 to begin the Cuban Revolution…but were quickly crushed by Batista’s army immediately upon landing. A dozen or so survived (including the three instigators) and fled to the Sierra Maestra mountains where they waged a long and bloody guerrilla war, gaining support along the way. Finally, the revolutionaries, led by the brains Fidel and the brawn of Che, defeated Batista’s forces and forced him to leave Cuba in 1959, paving the way for their take over. (again, you can see the night of the full Fidel takeover in The Godfather Part 2)
The much more charismatic and engaging Fidel quickly rose to power, giving his younger brother the shady and unpopular job of evicting the aristocracy and business owners, and also overseeing the execution of hundreds of soldiers still loyal to the pre-revolutionary Cuba. Indeed as Fidel was changing the culture of Cuba with his personality and flare, Raúl was off being all mysterious, pulling economic and political strings from the shadows.
Fidel was the brains and the mouthpiece for this Cuban commie experiment…and Raúl was the behind-the-scenes muscle that made it happen. How?
First, he transformed his mostly uneducated revolutionaries into an efficient institution, loyal to the brothers Castro in every imaginable way. Then he made some of his best generals into businessmen, giving them the skills and capital to run all the major industries of Cuba that had just been confiscated/nationalized during the Revolution. He himself built a personal empire out of the tourism industry, a situation which remains to this day. And of course he made himself General of the Armed Forces too, position which has been highly adventurous to say the least: think Cold War, US invasion (Ba of Pigs), US embargo, Cuban Missile Crisis. Wow!
Dudes, duddettes, consider this: Raúl was making the decisions during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, as he and Fidel faced off against the US President John F. Kennedy! And here in 2010 he is still in power! My God! Him and his brother have outlived like 5 US Presidents! And they are still in power!
Let’s get back to Raúl’s Cuban command….well actually, much of his manipulations were shady, and even during the revolutionary period. Raúl was always on the scene, but never actually credited with anything specific. He’s just one of those behind-the-scenes, power-broker types. However, what we do know is that he’s had his head in the political game from the beginning. Staying as Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba since it’s creation in 1965 (second only to big brother) and the first Vice President (again, second only to big brother), the man has had his hands on the levers of power the whole time. Not only that, he also holds the highest rank of general in the country, while he sits on the Council of Ministers and National Assembly of Popular Power. Geez, could he have more hats to wear?
Well, no matter what hat he has on, it hasn’t made a shit’s bit of difference to most Cubans as their already feeble economy went down the toilet when the USSR crashed and burned in 1990. The Soviets had been propping up Cuba for years (to counter the devastating US embargo on the country) but that party ended when the Ruskies couldn’t even afford to take care of themselves anymore. So Cuba and the Castros have been flailing even worse than usual in the last couple of decades, and change has got to be coming soon to this communist dinosaur of a country, as Raúl himself has even alluded to….
In 1994 Raúl made a rare public speech to Cubans struggling to feed themselves after the fall of the Soviet Union, producing his most memorable line: “Beans are more important than cannons.” Period. Yep. That is his most famous line, and a perfect illustration of his remarkable lack of charisma. Nevertheless, these calming words (and the inflow of profits from his tourism empire) served to sedate the country to some extent. And how could they not? This guy could put a toddler to sleep with his voice.
But life radically changed for our fair wallflower when big brother got desperately ill in 2006 (for like the 100th time) and Raúl became acting President of Cuba…and then officially assumed the position fully in 2008 when everyone thought that Fidel was finally finished. Of course, Fidel ended up living which is complicating matters even more…because now he has big brother sitting in the wings watching him. Dammit! Its as if the roles have been reversed, but Raúl is not prone to this position!
Now people weren’t sure how Raúl in office would change the country. Some believed that he would keep up the same international policies and same communist beliefs that Fidel held. Others thought that with his pragmatism, he would embrace at least some free-market trading with other countries to open up his economy.
Turns out both were a little right. With the allowance to bring in things like DVD players, microwaves, rice cookers and computers, the economy got a boost. Raúl also plowed over unused land, so that they could bring in workers and up food production. Yet at the same time, Raúl still refuses to connect with many other democratic, free-market countries, regardless of the help they offer or the benefits that they could directly help with the country. And there are other small movements away from big brother’s policies too…
Raúl has shown a certain ‘openness’ to the criticisms of Cuba’s one-party state, a drastic change from Fidel’s no-tolerance policies towards his adversaries. Some political prisoners have been released lately too. He has made statements uncommon in a socialist state, such as saying that Cuba would reach out for “capital, technology or markets”. And since he and the military own around 60% of the Cuban economy, this could indeed become some sort of reality. He has also praised the “Chinese Model” which allows some private businesses with strict controls.
Well alright Raúl! This is great. It looks like Cuba is finally going to make the sweeping changes necessary to open itself up to the rest of the world and help out its poverty stricken citizens, right? …Well, not really. At least not yet.
You see, there is no doubt that big brother Fidel is still there in some form to protect the ways of the Cuba that he has built, so Raúl is kind of stuck. He won’t be implementing any grand reform or sweeping change while the old fart is still sucking wind. And quite frankly, Raúl helped him to create modern day Cuba, and still shares many of Fidel’s views on a great many things….including strong dislike for the US and continued complete lack of diplomatic relations with Uncle Sam. He may be softening even on that front though, as it becomes clear that restored relations may be the way out of their economic malaise.
So we’ve got another, less animated and downright boring Castro in charge of Cuba. A stern, US-hating, whiskey-drinking military man who realizes that his country needs some big-time change economically and maybe even socially and politically. At the very least, the man is rough-edged and incredibly uneasy in the spotlight, barely looking up from his scripted speeches when making his few and far between public appearances. However, at the very most, he may become a rapid catalyst for the next wave of revolution in his country…one that sees Cuba reintegrated into the world economic and political order.
My friends, this leader will be one to watch in near future…especially when Fidel finally gets planted six feet under. Still holding supreme power, Raúl Castro’s opinions and his policies will determine the fate of Cuba, and may radically change the relationship with the US in the coming years. A Raúl rectification may soon be realized!
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