Raul Castro: Be patient for changes at top

Some Cubans see need for younger leadership

Cuba's President Raul Castro (left) gestures next to Ramiro Valdes, a commander during Cuba's revolution, in Havana. (Associated Press)Cuba’s President Raul Castro (left) gestures next to Ramiro Valdes, a commander during Cuba’s revolution, in Havana. (Associated Press)
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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 Castro 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 last week’s Communist Party Congress, when Raul named elderly revolutionary figures Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 80, and Ramiro Valdes, 78, as his principal deputies.

A man holds up a poster with images of Cuba's leader Fidel Castro and his brother, President Raul Castro, during the parade marking the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs failed invasion in Havana on April 16. Some Cubans are anxious for a new generation of leaders to emerge. (Associated Press)

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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.

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, 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 illusions.”

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