Thursday, April 21, 2011

Raul Castro: Be patient for generational change

Posted on Wednesday, 04.20.11

Raul Castro: Be patient for generational change
Associated Press

HAVANA -- Raul Castro has begged patience from those seeking a
generational change in Cuba, saying the country still lacks young
leaders with the experience to take the revolution forward 52 years
after he and his brother came to power.

But observers say that the Castros have only themselves to blame, and
that a history of cutting the legs out from under promising politicians
has marked their rule almost from its inception.

"The lack of confidence Raul feels in young apparatchiks is based on the
fact he doesn't understand their impatience or the speed at which they
want to accelerate the process (of economic and political change)," said
Eduardo Bueno, a professor of international relations at Mexico's
Iberoamerican University. "The founding generation is extremely closed,
and this ethic has served to discredit young leaders."

Raul and Fidel have often criticized the young for a lack of
revolutionary bona fides, saying that what they had was handed to them,
rather than earned through valiant struggle.

The generation gap was never more apparent than at this week's Communist
Party Congress, when Raul named elderly revolutionary figures Jose Ramon
Machado Ventura, 80, and Ramiro Valdes, 78, as his principal deputies.
Three relatively young politicians were elevated to the 15-member party
leadership council, but in lesser roles.

The changes fell far short of what many observers expected after hearing
the emphatic declarations of both Castro brothers that the time had come
for "rejuvenation" of the party, and that the old must clear a path for
future leaders.

Younger politicians unburdened by decades of party dogma - and
unconnected to the struggles of the early days of the revolution - might
be willing to move faster on the economic reforms Raul Castro has
championed. They might even be open to considering democratic changes
long demanded by Cuban exiles, activists, and the U.S. But Castro has
made clear he is not interested in a radical departure from socialism;
he just wants to modernize it.

Raul seemed to acknowledge the gap between his words and final action in
his closing speech, going out of his way to explain that because of bad
choices, nobody acceptable was available to promote. But he implied that
the error was having put faith in the wrong people - not having undercut
fast-rising stars.

Raul hinted that some fresh faces might be added to the leadership
council in January 2012, when the Communist Party will hold another
important gathering.

In Cuba, those who have flown too high, too fast, have often found
themselves falling back to earth, most famously in the case of Vice
President Carlos Lage, then 57, and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque,
then 43, who were suddenly fired in March 2009.

Both were seen as potential post-Castro leaders, and enjoyed relative
respect in Washington and key European capitals. And neither was afraid
to put himself in front of the cameras in a country where excessive
publicity is not necessarily the safest path to success.

In the end, it was a camera neither man was aware of that did them in.
Both were captured on a secret videotape drinking whiskey and joking
about the country's old leaders.

A day after President Raul Castro fired them, Fidel made clear that the
one-time proteges had lost both brothers' confidence, and hinted that
they were cut loose because their angling for leadership roles had
become unseemly.

"The honey of power ... awoke in them ambitions which led them to
undignified behavior," Fidel wrote. "The foreign enemy filled them with

After Fidel's sharp words, Lage and Perez Roque promptly fell on their
swords, accepted responsibility and withdrew into a quiet forced
retirement that is common enough in Cuba to have its own name: the "Plan
Pijama" - or Pajama Plan.

Lage is reportedly now a low-level hospital administrator. Perez Roque
works as an engineer at an industrial park on the outskirts of the capital.

While the video has never been made public, it has been shown to
thousands of Communist Party members across the island, an object lesson
to those who might repeat the mistake.

This kind of cautionary tale has played out again and again since the
1959 revolution.

Perez Roquez's young predecessor as foreign minister, Roberto Robaina,
was fired in 2002, apparently for disloyalty after he implied he might
be in line for the presidency in a post-Castro Cuba, as well as for
accepting favors from foreign leaders and businessmen. He now paints
pictures of rural landscapes in his Havana home.

Another young and once-trusted aide, Carlos Valenciaga, a member of
Cuba's Council of State and Fidel Castro's personal secretary, was
removed for unknown reasons in 2008.

Cuba's political paralysis has been in stark contrast to the bold
free-market economic changes Raul Castro has enacted since taking over,
including making it easier for Cubans to work for themselves, hire
employees and rent out rooms and cars. At the Communist Party congress,
delegates approved more than 300 other changes, including a proposal to
legalize the sale of private property.

Bueno said the Cuban president sees it as his final duty to prepare the
country for the day that he and his brother are gone.

"They see themselves as the leaders of this big change," Bueno said.
"It's all about correcting errors (of the past), but within the
framework of socialism."

The reluctance of Cuba's leaders to put their faith in the younger
generation is striking, given that they were once symbols of youth

Fidel was just 32 when he came to power in 1959, and Raul 27. Their
comrade in arms, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, was 31 and had no financial
experience whatsoever when he was named head of Cuba's Central Bank.

Before he was killed in Bolivia in 1967, the Argentine rebel often
retold the apparently apocryphal story that when Fidel was looking for a
new bank chief, he asked at a meeting of victorious insurgents if any of
them were good "economists."

Mishearing and believing the comandante wanted to know who among them
was a "communist," Che raised his hand - and got the job.

Uva de Aragon, a Cuba expert at Florida International University, said
that a half-century later the contradictions Cuba is living are clear,
and can be seen in the gap between Raul's stated intention to promote
the young, and his continued reliance on an inner circle of rebel
comrades whose trust was earned in blood.

"On the one hand, a generation is in power which is trapped by its age -
with all the physical and mental limitations that implies - and by its
history, ideology and desire to stay in power," she said. "On the other
hand, the country is broken and they know they need to make urgent reforms."

Associated Press writers Peter Orsi and Andrea Rodriguez contributed to
this report.

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