- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

Raul Castro lacks the charisma of his brother Fidel and is expected to rely more heavily on the military and intelligence services to control Cuba.

Residents in Cuba said yesterday that the authorities had called up reserve forces to patrol neighborhoods, while Fidel failed to show himself in public despite government statements that he was in good health after intestinal surgery.

“People have the idea that [the government] wants to have firmer control at the time they announce probably Castro’s death,” said Ninoska Perez, spokeswoman for the Cuban Liberty Council, which is in constant touch with people in Cuba.

“There is evidence of extra patrolling around the coastal towns, for more control in case of any outburst,” said Mrs. Perez.

The president of Cuba’s National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, told National Public Radio yesterday Fidel Castro was alert.

“Mentally speaking he’s, for a person that has just gone through surgery, he was very, very alive in spirit, and alert, even to take care of making certain decisions,” said Mr. Alarcon.

“But I don’t know — I don’t know physically what [recovery] requires. For sure it will take some weeks. How many weeks, who knows,” he said.

From Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has sent a get-well note to the recovering Cuban leader, the North’s Korean Central News Agency said today.

“I sincerely wish you a speedy recovery to your health so that you can excellently continue to carry out the Cuban revolution and the great mandate given to you by the people of Cuba,” Mr. Kim said in a telegram to Mr. Castro dated Aug. 2, KCNA said.

Mr. Kim, known as the “Dear Leader” at home, has ruled the North since the 1994 death of his father and the founder of the communist state, Kim Il-sung.

Most of the power in Cuba is concentrated in Fidel and, although Raul recently has been in charge of much of the day-to-day running of the country, his legitimacy still comes from his closeness to his older brother.

“Fidel maintained power through fear and impressive and effective internal repression and through charisma,” said Mark Shaheen, a former State Department official who served in Havana from 1998 to 2000 and now works with Civitas Group, a Washington-based security consulting and investment firm.

“Assuming that Fidel is incapacitated, the question becomes, can Raul do the same? He can do the scare part, but he certainly cannot do the charisma. So it becomes a question of: Do people stay scared of the state? Is he able to maintain the terror apparatus?” said Mr. Shaheen.

Speculation on Cuba’s future is rife because there is so little information about the country, he said, adding that many people were getting ahead of themselves regarding Mr. Castro.

“My instinct is that if he lives and wants power back he can get it back,” said Mr. Shaheen.

A U.S. intelligence official said there was “no reason to think at this point” that Mr. Castro was dead, noting there had not been any unusual movement of government people or military forces.

“So far, we are not seeing them preparing for Castro’s death,” said the official, who added that such steps may already have been prepared but have not been released to the public.

Latin America scholar Jaime Suchlicki said that even if Mr. Castro recovers from his surgery, Monday’s power turnover to his younger brother was a watershed point.

“I think this is it — Raul is probably in power for good,” said Mr. Suchlicki, who teaches history at the University of Miami.

But the turnover would not lead to great changes on the communist island nation, he said. “This is not transition, this is succession, this is more of the same.”

Mrs. Perez said nobody really knew what would happen in Cuba under Raul, who has remained out of sight for the last two days, but that a lot more would become clear in the next few days.

“We might see discontent in the armed forces,” she said, reflecting doubts held by some Cubans that Raul would command the same degree of authority and respect that his older brother has for the past 47 years.

“Raul has always been in the shadow of Fidel,” said Mrs. Perez. “Fidel has not governed because he is popular or charismatic, because then he would have held elections. He has ruled through force and that is probably the same thing that Raul Castro will have to do.”

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