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Posted on Saturday, 06.02.12

's 81st a reminder of aging leadership

Associated Press

HAVANA — Cuban President Raul Castro turns 81 on Sunday, another

reminder to his countrymen and to the exiles who hate him that time is

catching up with the island's aging revolutionaries.

But even with the actuarial inevitabilities looming, there is no

indication that Cuba's leadership is moving quickly to prepare any

younger possible successors to assume the mantle of Marxism under which

the island has been guided for more than a half-century.

Even Castro's April 2011 proposal to impose term limits on everyone in

government including himself has yet to be enacted. His retired older

brother Fidel is 85. His two top deputies are 81 and 80.

"Time and again they've postponed elevating figures from the next

generation to the top levels of leadership," said Philip Peters, a Cuba

analyst at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute. "It creates some

uncertainty."

Discussion of the Castros' eventual demise crops up year after year in a

testament to their staying power. But the march of time has been

particularly hard on the brothers recently.

The Castros' oldest sister, Angela, died in February at age 88 following

a long illness. In September, the president lost a confidant in Gen.

Julio Casas Regueiro, his longtime ally and successor as defense minister.

"Casas' death I think took his breath away, because Casas died instantly

and Casas really was his right hand," said Ann Louise Bardach, a Cuba

expert and author of "Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana

and Washington."

"He had a heart attack and was gone, and at (75) he was their young

spring chicken," Bardach said.

Analysts say Castro has peppered top provincial positions and his

Cabinet with new faces, including women and Afro-Cubans, some of them in

their 50s.

People such as economic reform czar Marino Murillo, Cabinet Vice

President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Havana Communist Party boss Mercedes

Lopez Acea wield considerable influence in their posts, but none is an

obvious heir-apparent.

Castro is believed to be in good , with no sign of serious

physical infirmity. When Pope Benedict XVI visited the island in March

and met with both brothers, Raul seemed by far the most spry and

energetic of the three octogenarians.

Castro doesn't appear to have the same drive to push himself physically

as did Fidel, who often spoke for hours under the punishing tropical sun

before a nearly fatal illness forced him from office in 2006. The

younger brother seems happy to let lieutenants handle speechmaking on

revolutionary anniversaries and appears reluctant to more than

absolutely necessary.

But the president still carries a heavy load for a man 15 years beyond

Cuba's official retirement age, pushing his country to adopt free-market

reforms that even he describes as the last chance to save the island's

socialist . With Fidel looking his years, and Cuba's top patron,

Venezuelan President Hugo , battling cancer, Raul's health is

especially crucial to the country's future.

"Raul Castro is a military man, and like a good military man you expect

him to prepare for the time that he leaves his post," said Peters. "He

has started a process of fixing the economy that has made it a lot

easier for the next generation to carry on … but on the other front of

choosing political leadership, it's not at all clear what's been done or

how it's supposed to work."

As with everything involving Cuba and the Castros, opinions vary widely.

Many older island residents still voice support for the men, while some

younger people vent their frustration.

"I hope Raul lives for another 81 years," said Esteban Gonzalez, a

71-year-old retiree in Havana. "With Raul, the country is on the right

track for development."

"There has been a lost generation, and not just one but several," said

Marta, a 45-year-old cafeteria worker who declined to give her last name

for fear that openly criticizing the government could get her in

trouble. "Fifty years have gone by with them always telling us that

everything was temporary. Well, for how long?"

In Miami, where many exiles have grown old waiting for a change in

leadership on their homeland, the birthday marks another year of

disappointment.

"The Castro experiment has lasted half a century but it is exhausted,"

said Huber Matos, who fought in the revolution but broke with the

Castros over their embrace of Marxism and served 20 years in as a

result. "The Castro leaders are old," said Matos, who himself is 93. "

… In a not too distant time, this is going to end."

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/06/02/2829184/raul-castros-81st-a-reminder-of.html

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