2008-09-27. The Latell Report, September 2008
Dr. Brian Latell*
(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net).- "We knew you would come," a Cuban woman
exclaimed when Raul Castro arrived September 18th in flattened little
Nueva Gerona on the Isle of Youth. He was there to survey the damage
from the twin hurricanes, Gustav and Ike, in Cuba's most devastated region.
Granma quoted him uttering reassuring banalities and delivering
greetings from Fidel, described by the newspaper as "the revolution's
leader" who had been "permanently following the ravages." Raul, in
contrast, had not been seen in public until this much delayed visit,
about seventeen days after the first of the hurricanes blasted ashore on
Indeed it is Fidel who has attracted the most attention since then. Ten
"reflections" have been issued over his signature since the end of
August. He was more prolific during the last month than at any other
time since he began communicating with the Cuban people this way
following surgeries in the summer of 2006. He has also been more
assertive, reiterating his adamant opposition to American offers of
hurricane relief, while pugnaciously making clear he is back in the
decision making process.
"I did not hesitate to express my point of view," he wrote, about what
he considered a "hypocritical" American offer of help. This suggested he
had felt it imperative to weigh in during a policy dispute. Castro had
not said or implied anything like that since transferring provisional
power to his brother more than two years ago. Rather, until now he had
gone out of his way to avoid the impression that he was playing an
active leadership role. Delays and some confusion in Cuban government
responses to sequential American offers of assistance suggest that some
leaders –perhaps including Raul—advocated a more flexible stance.
Regardless of whether Fidel actually writes or dictates the reflections,
substantially inspires them, or is being used by a cabal of hard-line
sycophants, he has clearly reemerged at the center of the Cuban
political arena. His familiar, angry voice resonates in these recent
messages. Some of the most enduring and intransigent themes of his
dictatorship, including venomous and absurd denunciations of the United
States and capitalist enterprise, are being replayed.
On September 2, for example, he blandly claimed that years ago the
United States provided the apartheid government of South Africa with
seven nuclear bombs that might have been used against Cuban military
forces in Angola. I don't recall that he ever made that preposterous
claim before, or anything resembling it. Its publication now only
introduces new doubts about the bizarre process in which Castro's
reflections are crafted.
But his repeated criticisms of Cuban "opportunists" suggest that real
conflicts have flared within the leadership. He first aired that thought
on August 26, before the first hurricane struck, saying "these times
demand ever-increasing dedication, steadiness, and conscience. It
doesn't matter if the opportunists and traitors also benefit without
contributing anything to the safety and well being of our people."
The formulation was somewhat different on September 7 when he wrote
about "softness and opportunism." That was the same reflection in which
he oddly compared hurricane Gustav's impact in Cuba to the nuclear
devastation of Hiroshima, leaving the false impression that he had
personally witnessed it in 1945.
The renascent and erratic Fidel has not been specific about who he
considers guilty of the transgressions he highlights. It is clear he
means to condemn the many suffering Cubans who steal from their
workplaces in order to subsist, others who claim "special privileges,"
and speculators who use "genuine capitalist methods."
The last complaint refers to the most heinous of crimes in Fidel's mind,
the specter of some form of neo-capitalism emerging in Cuba. It is
difficult, therefore, to avoid the supposition that the more pragmatic
Raul and others in his circle are the true targets of Fidel's wrath. The
limited economic reforms they have championed to stimulate individual
initiative threaten the foundations of the egalitarian, volunteeristic,
and militant society that Fidel still advocates.
One lengthy but obscure passage published in a reflection on September
19 might even be meant to implicate the armed forces ministry, still
under Raul's indirect tutelage. Fidel denounced those who, "in their
quest for revenues to manage resources . . . gain a reputation for
efficiency and secure the willing support of their staffs."
It is the military -- widely viewed as the most efficient institution on
the island-- where top officers and staffs manage for-profit enterprises
on a large scale. Perhaps therefore, it was not an error when Granma, on
September 25, described Fidel as the commander-in-chief, a title that
Raul inherited definitively last February.
And, on September 19 Fidel played conspicuously to his one remaining
institutional ace in the hole, the only title -- First Secretary of the
Communist Party—that he never surrendered. He sounded the trumpet in
that reflection for party diligence and vigilance, even though in the
past he never had much use for the party.
"The battle is one to be waged fundamentally by our glorious party . . .
we must now show what we are capable of." Perhaps then it was an
intentional slight when on September 10 Raul was mentioned in Granma as
party second secretary. That is true enough, but rarely mentioned anymore.
The regime has been fairly candid about the unprecedented scope of the
damage inflicted by the hurricanes as well as the many months or years
that will pass before the country can recover. Problems of homelessness,
severe shortages of food, electrical power, transportation, and other
necessities, as well as the likelihood of public health crises, will
persist. Popular anger, perhaps even new forms of lawlessness, are
likely to grow.
But as Gustav and Ike confronted Raul with his first potentially
transformational crisis, the apparent conflict with Fidel will be more
difficult for him to handle. Raul's acuity, fortitude, and ingenuity in
managing national crises on his own have never before been tested, and
in his numerous confrontations with Fidel he has rarely prevailed. Yet,
it is too early to predict how he will fare this time.
I wish to acknowledge the valuable assistance provided by Javier
Quintana, my University of Miami student research assistant, in the
preparation of this report.
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 email@example.com.
The Latell Report September 2008
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
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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).