- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

During his visit to The Washington Times this week, Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega described Cuban President Fidel Castro as an increasingly paranoid dictator, expectantly awaiting a clash with the United States. While the motivations of Mr. Castro are often difficult to divine, the public conjuring of this threat could facilitate, in his mind, the meeting of a goal dear to his heart: An eventual transfer of power to his brother, Raul Castro.

“There are some worrying signs that [Fidel] Castro is hunkering down for some kind of confrontation with the United States, real or imagined,” Mr. Noriega told reporters and editors. If real, that confrontation would be provoked by Fidel Castro, presumably to secure some interest of his, added Mr. Noriega.

Most Cuba experts tend to agree that Fidel Castro probably won’t face serious threats to his repressive rule while he is either alive or of sound mind. Raul Castro’s succession could also go smoothly — in the beginning. There are several factors that could break the solidarity of Cuba’s armed forces and thereby threaten Raul Castro’s leadership. Fidel Castro’s conjuring of a potential U.S. attack could be geared toward strengthening fraternity in military ranks.

In the study “The Cuban military and transition dynamics,” Brian Latell, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, outlines the sources of tension within Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces and what they imply for Raul Castro’s succession aspirations. The armed forces are widely considered the most professional and merit-based organization in Cuba. Surveys taken of Cuban exiles indicate a broad appreciation of the armed forces, which are expected to play a central role in any transfer of power in Cuba. But that appreciation doesn’t appear to apply to the head of the forces, Raul Castro, who is poorly regarded, according to the surveys. The Prussian, as Raul is often called, is an effective military commander but ruthless in guarding his powers and utterly lacking in charisma.

Raul Castro has also made missteps that have alienated him from a potentially large segment of the corps. The 1989 televised execution of revolutionary hero Arnaldo Ochoa for political reasons embittered many in the forces. That bitterness appears to linger and could lead to a division in the corps, in the event of Fidel Castro’s death or incapacitation.

At the same time, the Cuban military, according to various sources, has not been trained to, and probably is not willing to, put down a massive uprising (at, for example, Fidel Castro’s death) with lethal force. Should Raul Castro face a massive insurrection, any orders to put the movement down could be either ignored or lead to a schism, said the study. Division in the corps may already be occurring, prompted by the comprehensive involvement of the officers, particularly friends of Raul Castro, in lucrative commercial ventures since the mid-1990s.

In summary, Raul Castro, should he still be alive when the time comes, faces a difficult inheritance of power. Given the tensions and traditions of the Cuban corps, raising the specter of a clash with the United States could be highly expedient for Fidel Castro.

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