Raul Castro: Be patient for changes at top

Some Cubans see need for younger leadership

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After Fidel’s sharp words, Mr. Lage and Mr. 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.

Mr. Lage is reportedly now a low-level hospital administrator. Mr. 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.

Mr. 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.

While the cynical might feel the revolutionary leaders lack the credibility to champion those changes, Mr. Bueno said that Raul Castro saw 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,” Mr. 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 themselves.

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.

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