Thursday, April 1, 2010


2010-04-01. The Latell Report, March 2010, Cuban Transition Project,
Dr. Brian Latell

( Predictions that the Castro regime will
soon collapse are popular again. Such speculation is fueled by many
developments over the last year, including missteps by Raul Castro,
stasis and confusion in the ruling gerontocracy, the rehabilitation of
Ramiro Valdes, severe economic contractions, and rising international
condemnations of Cuba's appalling human rights record.

And of course, actuarially, the odds favoring sudden changes at the top
are steadily increasing. All of that adds up to greater uncertainty than

But predicting the demise of the Castro brothers' regime has been a
losing proposition for all of the 51 years they have exercised power.
There have been a number of occasions when observers on and off the
island let themselves be convinced that the final chapter was being
written. I believed that once myself, as I have explained in After Fidel.

It was following the disappearance of the Soviet Union when Cuba's
economy plunged into what seemed then like terminal seizure. The largest
riots the regime ever experienced broke out on the Malecon in Havana and
in a few other places. Ox carts were substituting for transport
vehicles; factories were shutting down for lack of inputs; and extended
energy blackouts were provoking popular discontent. The leadership was
in a state of geopolitical shock.

By any rational analysis, the economic survival strategy Fidel Castro
decreed would never be able to compensate for the loss of the
approximately $6 billion of annual Soviet bloc subsidies. But the regime
did survive its worst economic crisis, the Special Period in Peacetime.
There were few defections from the leadership, no known challenge to
Castro from within the nomenclatura, and no outward signs of political

At other junctures, political and economic convulsions also appeared to
some to be more than the Castros could handle. There was, for example,
the chaos of the first few years of the revolution as rapid
confiscations of property and brutal repression of dissent fueled the
exodus of skilled and professional Cubans and their families. The
Matos-Cienfuegos crisis in the fall of 1959 could easily have ended
differently, that is, in violent conflict within the embryonic armed
forces and the diverse July 26th Movement.

In the 1960's there were numerous real or apparent challenges to the
Castros' hegemony. The 1962 "sectarian" purge, the 1964 Marcos Rodriguez
affair, the "microfaction" purge later in the decade, and the defections
of many prominent officials and scapegoating of others by Fidel Castro
suggested at times that the regime was faltering. But of course, the
hopes of those predicting its downfall came to naught.

In retrospect, the gravest of all the crises the regime has weathered
probably occurred during the summer of 1989. Highlighted by dramatic
show trials, executions, dangerous purges, suspicious deaths (suicide
and heart attack?), and preposterously contrived charges of drug
trafficking, the Ochoa-de la Guardia-Abrahantes affair may some day be
known to have been the closest the Castro brothers have ever come to a
genuinely regime-threatening crisis.

They were playing with fire when they ordered convulsive purges in the
Ministry of Interior (MININT). And their frantic behavior during those
tense weeks are evidence enough of how grave a backlash they thought
might materialize.

Juan Antonio Rodriguez Menier, a late 1980's defector from Cuban
intelligence who has written about the DGI and the Ministry of Interior,
has commented on the fateful summer of 1989. "Internal opposition has
been serious in the past," he has said, "proven by the execution of
(General Arnaldo) Ochoa & the imprisonment of nearly 200 MININT
officials who were opposed to Castro and were almost to the point of
conspiring to overthrow him."

Rodriguez Menier explains that "the old generation of MININT leaders
long contemplated a conspiracy against Fidel, but in the end, they saw
no viable alternative. While the armed forces are largely 'yes sir
types,' the MININT consists of the most intelligent Cubans who are also
the best informed."

It has been more than twenty years now since the MININT purges and
executions, plenty of time for Fidel and Raul Castro and their
subalterns to have repaired the damage done. But Rodriguez Menier's
judgments may nonetheless have relevance to Cuban conditions today. An
elite-led rebellion or challenge to the doddering regime will be more
likely than one that spontaneously arises in the streets. But predicting
it will continue to be a reckless undertaking.

I wish to acknowledge the valuable assistance of Ms. Lolita Sosa, my
University of Miami student research assistant.

Dr. Brian Latell, distinguished Cuba analyst and recent author of the
book, After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next
Leader, is a Senior Research Associate at ICCAS. He has informed
American and foreign presidents, cabinet members, and legislators about
Cuba and Fidel Castro in a number of capacities. He served in the early
1990s as National Intelligence Officer for Latin America at the Central
Intelligence Agency and taught at Georgetown University for a quarter
century. Dr. Latell has written, lectured, and consulted extensively.

The CTP, funded by a grant from the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID), can be contacted at P.O. Box 248174, Coral Gables,
Florida 33124-3010, Tel: 305-284-CUBA (2822), Fax: 305-284-4875, and by
email at

The Latell Report March 2010

Welcome to The Latell Report. The Report, analyzing Cuba's contemporary
domestic and foreign policy, is published monthly except August and
December and distributed by the electronic information service of the
Cuba Transition Project (CTP) at the University of Miami's Institute for
Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS).

The Latell Report is a publication of ICCAS and no government funding
has been used in its publication. The opinions expressed herein are
those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ICCAS
and/or the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

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