One less crutch for Raúl Castro
BY CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER
Gen. Raúl Castro, Cuba's de-facto ruler, has lost his wife of almost
half a century: Vilma Espín, a 77-year-old chemical engineer who was
born to an affluent family in Santiago de Cuba. She leaves four children
and numerous grandchildren. One of the grandchildren, Alejandro, is the
chief of his grandfather's security detail. One of her sons-in-law, Luis
Alberto Rodríguez, a high-ranking military officer, is in charge of the
armed forces' vast economic interests.
Fidel Castro is not exactly pleased by the media heft of his brother's
family. Raúl, with some pride, displays his children and fosters their
presence in the media -- especially daughter Mariela, a sexologist
credited with intelligence and a certain spirit of tolerance typical of
her profession. Meanwhile, Fidel hides his children, condemning his
descendants to a kind of strange alienation that has inevitably caused
them serious emotional stress. That fact has been revealed by some of
his former daughters-in-law, who went into exile after living for a
while under the same roof with that peculiar family.
No social interaction
According to two of Raúl's private secretaries who fled to the United
States -- one, a former delegate to the United Nations, arrived in a
boat; the other defected in Russia, where he was Cuba's interim
ambassador; both were remarkably brilliant men -- contact between
Fidel's and Raúl's families was not fluid. They didn't even visit each
Why? Because the relations between the two brothers rest on foundations
that are totally perverse.
Fidel, five years older than Raúl, feels an enormous moral contempt for
his brother and tells him so, fairly frequently. Fidel values Raúl's
absolute loyalty and admits that he has a notable instinct for the
bureaucratic management of the armed forces but considers him frivolous.
Fidel is annoyed by Raúl's episodes of alcoholism, reproaches his
limited capacity for political analysis, is irritated by his brother's
notorious lack of intellectual curiosity and criticizes him for the
fatal behavioral flaw that allows Raúl's yokel humor and vulgarity to
liquidate all vestiges of the majesty that Fidel believes should
permanently envelop any leader.
In turn, Raúl has lived psychologically and emotionally subordinated to
a brother he admires, even though Fidel always has exerted his authority
through intimidation and verbal and physical abuse and at times has
resorted to another type of punishment: an implacable silence. In
moments of deep anger, Fidel does not speak to Raúl, and Raúl feels
forsaken and the victim of that feeling of guilt he first experienced in
childhood. Raúl is so afraid of Fidel that Gabriel García Márquez, on
more than one occasion, has carried to Fidel the messages Raúl did not
have the nerve to deliver in person.
Despite appearances, that type of humiliating relationship gradually
eroded Espín's affection -- and that of Raúl's entire family -- toward
It is very difficult to really love a narcissistic psychopath like
Fidel. Because of the fear they provoke, people like him are applauded,
humored and shown constant proof of unconditional allegiance in the
pursuit of survival -- but it is impossible to appreciate them. It's the
same thing that happened with Stalin, the Dominican Rafael Trujillo or
Adolf Hitler. Their underlings did not love them with their hearts; they
feared them desperately.
Good wife and mother
Espín's growing resentment toward Fidel was predictable. No woman likes
to see her husband or children mistreated, and Espín (according to those
closest to her) was a good wife and mother.
Her death -- she was a notable psychological bulwark to her husband --
and perhaps the not-so-distant death of Fidel cannot but vigorously
rattle Raúl's already battered conscience. The death of the two most
important people in his life must plunge him into an emotional whirlwind.
Now 76 years old, Raúl knows he has little time left. He knows that his
brother has bequeathed to him a country in ruins and the hallucinatory
assignment to conquer the world, hand in hand with madman Hugo Chávez,
Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega and similar other agents of chaos.
He knows that all of Cuba will trudge down that road toward catastrophe
once he's not around to stop them. But he has no idea of what to do,
because his brother crushed his character back in childhood and because
he no longer has his wife to counsel him. Embraced by thousands of grim
mourners, Raúl Castro today must be one of the most confused and
solitary men in Cuba. Such are the mysteries of power.
©2007 Firmas Press