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Filling Raul’s Boots.

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Filling Raul’s Boots.

Mensaje por glezbo el Miér Oct 19, 2011 8:48 pm

This is, as I think, a most interesting article about the loneliness at the top and the faithful decisions one must make as of passing the symbols of the power when your time is up, it's an endless dilemma every strongman have faced time and time again. Don't dare anybody to pretend I'm on Castro II side, it won't never be the case, just think of it as a decision every powerful leader have to face once in his lifetime and deal with the aftermath.

Best regards, Glezbo.

By Brian Lattell.

The strongest and most essential institution in Raul’s Castro’s government has been without a leader since September 3 when three star general Julio Casas died unexpectedly. Nearly seven weeks later the vacancy in the revolutionary armed forces ministry suggests that the leadership is in a quandary about who should fill it.
Beginning in October 1959 when Raul assumed command of the military, he and Casas were its only chiefs. The younger Castro reigned until February 2008, later boasting in a remarkable flourish during an interview that he had been the longest serving defense minister in human history. His faithful crony Casas, who fought with him in the late 1950s guerrilla struggle, succeeded as minister when Raul officially took over the presidency.

But now Raul must elevate another man to the only job in Cuba where viable challenges to his supremacy could originate. There have been just two known instances of severe disenchantment in the armed forces, and both were dealt with by the Castro brothers with cruelty and finality. In late 1959 the courageous Huber Matos, one of the most respected veterans of the insurgency, was imprisoned on Fidel’s orders by a kangaroo court. Thirty years later, during the summer of crisis in the Soviet bloc, General Arnaldo Ochoa, then the most accomplished and popular military commander, was executed on trumped up charges. In both cases, the offenders had lost confidence in the Castros’ dictatorship and sought liberalizing change.

If absolute loyalty to the regime were the only requirement for filling the defense post, several candidates could be relied on. Three star generals and vice ministers Leopoldo Cintra Frías and Ramón Espinosa Martín, both in their early seventies, certainly qualify. They served dependably, if unimaginatively, as commanders of Cuba’s two most powerful regional armies and sit on the communist party politburo.

Cintra Frias ran the strategically important Western Army, headquartered in Havana, from 1991 until 2009. He has the seniority, but is not one of Raul’s favorites and has not been identified as acting minister. That he was not present on October 3 when Raul met with a visiting military delegation from Angola may indicate that he is actually out of the running.

Interior minister, politburo member, and three star general Abelardo Colome Ibarra is closer to Raul than any other officer, and would be unquestionably loyal. But his health is reported by many sources to be in serious decline. Nonetheless, he could prove to be the ideal place holder.

Only two other three star generals are currently on active duty, just one of whom is sufficiently close to Raul to be a serious candidate. Army chief of staff Alvaro Lopez Miera is said to be like a second son to Raul. As a fourteen year-old he went up into the eastern sierra to fight with Raul’s forces, but was considered too young to take up arms and was assigned to teach local peasants instead. Now in his late sixties, Lopez is the youngest of the contenders in an armed force dominated by elderly generals.

It is surely significant that he was the highest ranking officer present when Raul met with the Angolan delegation. But Lopez has been reported by foreign visitors to the island to have been discreetly irreverent when listening to rambling discourses by Fidel in the past. He might, therefore, be considered insufficiently compliant. Moreover, he is possibly attracted to the need for more urgent and sweeping reforms of the system than Raul so far has implemented.

Yet, ironically, another of the most important qualifications to lead the ministry is private sector experience. The military, after all, is responsible in one fashion or another for a large part of the economy, accounting for as much as 50 or 60 percent, according to some estimates. The deceased Julio Casas was an able administrator of the many businesses run by active and retired military personnel. As the head of GAESA, an enterprise conglomerate, he managed businesses that bring in substantial amounts of hard currency and worked with foreign investors, especially in the lucrative tourism sector.

Seventy-nine year-old Ramiro Valdes has the requisite experience managing for-profit enterprises, especially in electronics and communications, and therefore must be considered a dark horse candidate. He served two tours as minister of interior, sits on the party politburo and the council of state, and is generally regarded now as third in the line of succession. But he has been a perennial rival to Raul and is not trusted by the senior military establishment. His appointment would likely open many old wounds.

In short, there is really no one among the candidates who meets all of Raul’s criteria. As Cuba’s only four star general he will continue as the country’s highest ranking military officer, but, at 80 years of age, he is too old and preoccupied with righting the precarious economy to manage day-to-day ministry affairs. He has undoubtedly been busy since Casas’ death consulting with his top generals, trying to forge a consensus, and demanding their loyalty amid the unanticipated new uncertainties this decision poses for him.

Raul is all too aware that the man he chooses as Cuba’s next defense minister will instantly become the second most powerful leader on the island. That succession is therefore, nearly as important as in the presidency. Whoever it is Raul ultimately selects could easily be the man who will lead post-Castro Cuba into a new era.
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