Posted on Saturday, 06.02.12
Raul Castro's 81st a reminder of aging leadership
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
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
"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
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
Castro is believed to be in good health, 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 travel more than
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 economy. With Fidel looking his years, and Cuba's top patron,
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, 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
"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 prison 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."