- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2006

HAVANA — With the military controlling a good share of Cuba’s tourism, electronics imports and foreign-currency reserves, the defense minister is as much entrepreneur as soldier.

Now that he is filling in as president for his ailing brother, Fidel, Raul Castro can count on a network of similarly positioned uniformed and retired officers who are as loyal to him from behind their desks as they were on the battlefields of Angola and Ethiopia.

Those generals and colonels are known as “Raulistas,” and their loyalty has helped them move into the highest echelons of the government and the economy.

Even dissident Vladimiro Roca, a fighter pilot under Raul Castro’s command before breaking with the government, thinks Raul has the military leadership’s support.

More than either Castro, they are “committed to the system,” Mr. Roca said of the generals. “What they are interested in is maintaining their status.”

That status is significant. Five active generals sit on the Communist Party’s powerful 19-member Politburo, which also includes the Castro brothers.

So do two retired military men: Juan Almeida Bosque, who played a historic military role in the revolution’s early years, and Vice President Jose Ramon Fernandez, who helped lead Cuba’s victorious troops at the U.S.-backed invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

Two of those active generals also run key ministries. Lt. Gen. Abelardo Colome Ibarra, 66, oversees the island’s vast domestic security and intelligence apparatus as interior minister. As sugar minister, Maj. Gen. Ulises Rosales del Toro, 64, controls Cuba’s economically important production of cane for export.

Generals and colonels also head the fishing and transportation ministries, as well as Habanos S.A., which works with a European firm to market the island’s world-famous cigars abroad. Another former commander, Ramiro Valdes, operates Grupo de Electronica de Cuba, which imports computers and other electronics.

The armed forces also operates the TRD Caribe chain, which has hundreds of small stores selling consumer goods across the country, and Gaviota S.A., a tourism company that runs more than 30 hotels and has subsidiaries that provide tourist travel.

The military’s economic enterprises are run by the Defense Ministry’s Business Administration Group, overseen by Raul Castro’s second in command and confidant, Lt. Gen. Julio Casas Regueiro.

“The ministry with the greatest efficiency, in all senses and aspects, has always been the armed forces,” said the dissident, Mr. Roca, whose father, the late Blas Roca, was a top Communist Party leader.

Known as a jocular man who dotes on friends and family, Raul Castro also has proved to be capable of ruthlessness.

In 1959, in the first months after the revolution, he and Ernesto “Che” Guevara oversaw the executions of officials from the deposed government of dictator Fulgencio Batista.

“My hand didn’t tremble then and it doesn’t tremble now,” Mr. Castro told the state press in 1989 when he voted to uphold the death penalty for a highly decorated Maj. Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa — who reportedly had been one of his closest friends — and three other officers convicted of drug trafficking.

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