Monday, August 28, 2006

The permanent successor to Fidel Castro will be his brother, Raul, Bush administration officials have concluded, and he will be enthusiastically assisted by the cadre of “young technocratic communist professionals” who have run Cuba’s day-to-day government machine for decades.

The officials said in interviews that this layer of committed communists is a key reason that democracy is not likely to emerge in Havana soon after the dictator’s death. The 80-year-old Mr. Castro is said to be recovering from intestinal surgery. He turned power over to his brother on July 31.

The Bush administration has debated making secret overtures to Cuba. One strategy toward democracy considered was an alliance with key military leaders in the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), the officials said. Some officials in the Pentagon backed the idea, but the State Department and White House said “no,” calling it unlikely to succeed.

Mr. Castro’s military was considered as a contact point because it is regarded as the “least of three evils” within the security apparatus, which also includes the regular police constabulary and the secret police. The average Cuban is not thought to necessarily link the military to political repression.

“We said, ‘We need to establish contact with the military,’ ” the official, who asked not to be named because the source is not authorized to discuss internal administration debates, says. “The military would play a major role in transition and maintaining order.”

The military, while tainted, “is not directly involved in repression.”

“The Cuban military is salvageable. Just like in Iraq, you should try to salvage the military.”

What is probably not salvageable are the generations of young, handpicked dedicated Communists who run the party and the government, and appear to be firmly in control.

A secret Pentagon report from 2000 assessed national-security threats until 2020 and predicted that the Castro bureaucracy would be able to hold power for some time after his death.

“The Cuban Communist Party — even without Castro at the helm — likely will remain in power,” the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) concluded. A copy of the report was obtained by The Washington Times. “However, a post-Castro government — particularly after Castro’s death — probably would liberalize the economy more rapidly, and any concomitant relaxation of U.S. foreign policy would be likely to spark debate over the extent of political liberalization inside and outside the Communist Party. Fundamental political change would probably result.”

The DIA concluded that the military likely would remain loyal to the Communist Party. “The Revolutionary Armed Forces will remain loyal to Castro. The high command has demonstrated concern over the speed of economic reforms — they favored more rapid change prior to 1994 — but probably will continue to agree with Castro on the need to maintain the Communist Party’s monopoly on political power.”

The Cuban regime is helped by Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, a self-proclaimed socialist who has sought strong ties with foes of the United States, including the Castro regime and Iran’s hard-line Islamic government. Mr. Chavez subsidizes the Cuban economy with oil and has invited hundreds of Cuban communist operatives into his country to tell his government how to wield power.

“You can’t influence people without money, and that is what he has been doing,” the defense official said.

Mr. Chavez’s strategic vision is to organize groups of countries to oppose U.S. policies, a second official said. U.S. hopes of a democratic uprising in Cuba are a “fantasy” and “wishful thinking,” the official says.

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