Monday, July 31, 2006

BREAKING NEWS! Castro relinquishes power!

From here:
Castro Relinquishes Power To His Brother (pictured at left)

(AP) HAVANA Fidel Castro has temporarily relinquished presidential power to his brother Raul due to illness. More to come...

From here:

HAVANA (AP) -- Fidel Castro temporarily relinquished his presidential powers to his brother Raul on Monday night and told Cubans he underwent surgery.

The Cuban leader said he had suffered gastrointestinal bleeding, apparently due to stress from recent public appearances in Argentina and Cuba, according to the letter read live on television by his secretary, Carlos Valenciaga.

"The operation obligates me to undertake several weeks of rest," the letter read, adding that extreme stress "had provoked in me a sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding that obligated me to undergo a complicated surgical procedure."

Castro said he was temporarily relinquishing the presidency to his younger brother and successor Raul, the defense minister, but said the move was of "a provisional character." There was no immediate appearance or statement by Raul Castro.

The elder Castro asked that celebrations scheduled for his 80th birthday on Aug. 13 be postponed until Dec. 2, the 50th anniversary of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces.

Castro said he would also temporarily relinquish his duties as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba to Raul, who turned 75 in June and who has been taking on a more public profile in recent weeks.

In power since the triumph of the Cuban revolution on Jan. 1, 1959, Castro has been the world's longest-ruling head of government. Only Britain's Queen Elizabeth, crowned in 1952, has been head of state longer.

The "maximum leader's" ironclad rule has ensured Cuba remains among the world's five remaining communist countries. The others are all in Asia: China, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea. (READ MORE)

This may not in and of itself be good news:
Castro Ruz, Raúl

Rank: Army General
DOB: 06/03/31
Province: Oriente
Education: Social Sciences (undergraduate)
Position: Minister of Armed Forces, Second Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, First Vice-President of the Council of State

Raúl was born on his father's plantation in Birán, in the northern portion of the province of Oriente, on June 3, 1931. He is the fifth of seven children of Angel Castro y Argiz and Line Ruz Gonsález de Castro.Raúl attended the Jesuit school Colegio Dolores in Santiago de Cuba and later also Jesuit school Colegio Belén in Havana. Later as a student at the University of Havana. Raúl's interests in politics became evident, He was a member of the Juventud Socialista (Socialist Youth), an affiliate of the Moscow-oriented Partido Socialista Popular, Cuba's Communist Party. In 1953, while still a student at the University of Havana, Raúl made his first trip behind the Iron Curtain. He has gone to participate in the World Youth Congress in Vienna, and visited the Soviet bloc capitals of Bucharest, Budapest, and Prague. Upon his return, Raúl began to get involved in his brother's struggle against Batista's government. The younger Castro, then, supposedly broke off from the communist organization to join his brother's fight, and did so with enthusiasm, saying that "the government has to be overthrown so that the revolution can begin." He agreed with Fidel's view that "reform in Cuba could not be accomplished by constitutional means" but by overthrowing the oppressive government. On July 26, 1953, Raúl accompanied his brother and 160 followers in an attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. The attack was a dismal failure; Raúl and Fidel were captured and many of their followers were executed. Both brothers were imprisoned and Raúl was given a 13-year old sentence but released in a general amnesty in May of 1955. Although a disaster, the Moncada raid gave birth to Fidel's 26th of July Movement. After his release from prison Raúl went to Mexico with Fidel to form and organize the movement. Late in 1956 Raúl, Fidel, and 80 revolutionaries left Mexico in a yacht named Granma and landed in Oriente province. Most of the rebels were killed but the Castro brothers managed to escape to the Sierra Maestra mountains along with 12 others.

In the mountains, the Castro brothers gained support and Raúl--on February 27, 1958--gained the rank of Major. He took some supporters and established a second front in the Sierra Cristal mountains in Northeastern Oriente. Named after underground leader Frank Pa’s (who was murdered in July 1957), Raúl's "Frank Pa’s Second Front" grew to a force of several hundred men. During his stay in the mountains, Raúl Castro gained a reputation for being "the most hot-headed, impetuous, and violently anti-American" of the rebels, and possessing a killer instinct. He reportedly matched the Cuban dictator "terror for terror". In the summer of 1958, he kidnapped 47 Americans and 3 Canadians, ranging from engineers employed at the Moa Nickel Company to American servicemen stationed at Guantánamo Base. It was reported that Fidel disapproved of the kidnappings and ordered Raúlto release the hostages. Raúl did not comply. He kept the captives to negotiate with the Americans, and also because he knew that Batista would not plan any attacks while there were American citizens present in his camp. When the U.S. agreed to Raúl's demands, he released the prisoners, on July 18, 1958. The kidnappings had made headlines all over the world and new accusations of communism were hurled at Raúl. On assaults, the rebels had won. Raúl Castro then decided to marry his fiancée, Vilma Espín, who had fought alongside him in the mountains (under the name of Deborah), and was reported to be his "political mentor." They were married on January 26, 1959. She was the daughter of an upper-class rum distiller, and held a chemical engineering degree from MIT.

In the wake of the revolution, ú began to punish Batista supporters. After he became head of the Armed Forces he directed the execution of nearly 100 officers and soldiers of the Batista Army and ordered them buried in a mass grave near Santiago de Cuba. In 1959 Raúl was named Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, giving him ministerial rank and complete control in reorganizing the armed forces. He build up the army into a highly professionalized modern military establishment closely modeled on the Soviet Armed Forces and equipped with the latest Soviet Equipment. The army's motto: "At your orders, commander-in-chief--for no matter what, no matter where, and under all circumstances." He also made military service for training in the Soviet Union. In 1969 he completed an advanced course in military studies taught by Soviet experts. In March of the same year he asked that soldiers be trained "to exhibit friendship with the sister armies of socialist countries; especially the Great Soviet Army, whose representatives work at the side of our officers and also harvest the fruits of our common efforts."

As commander of Cuba's two military intelligence organizations, Raúl directly thwarted numerous counter-revolutionary activities. It was he who led Cuban land forces against exile forces in the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 17, 1961. He cleaned the presence of the Guantánamo Naval Base in Cuba a "cancer" and a permanent focus of provocation. During the 1960's, it was Raúl who played a major role in transforming the framework of the Cuban government into a "Soviet-like single political party" structure. His power was consolidated with his positions as the 2nd Secretary of the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) and Vice-Premier. It was Raúl who arranged for the deployment of Soviet long-range missiles in Cuba which resulted in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. In the 1970's and early 1980's he has visited the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and has been invited as observer to the Warsaw Pact Manuevers. In the early 1970's, when Raúl was promoted to First Vice-Premier, he was also given the new military rank of division commander, which is equivalent to that of General. He is also a member of the Secretariat and the Politburo of Cuba's Communist Party. He was on of the principal figures in the move toward a more Sovietized bureaucratic order and has long enjoyed Moscow's confidence as a politically reliable Cuban leader and as a competent administrator.
But Raul will not be without his opposition:
MIAMI, May 23 -- Political intrigues don't come any more epically scaled than this one: the future of Cuba after the inevitable death of Fidel Castro, the world's longest-reigning head of state and an American government nemesis like few others.

The singular obsession that consumes the exile community here only grows more passionate as Castro, 78, ages. It tends to crescendo at the tiniest hint of vulnerability, such as the fall last year that broke his kneecap and arm, erupting in banner headlines and talk-radio vitriol in Miami. Castro has named his brother Raul, who is five years younger, to succeed him. But a Cuban exile daredevil who once flew missions over the island to drop human rights leaflets wants to get in the way.

ose Basulto, president of Hermanos al Rescate, or Brothers to the Rescue, plans to announce Tuesday afternoon that he is offering $1 million for information leading to the indictment of Raul Castro on charges of drug trafficking and of murdering four Brothers to the Rescue pilots and passengers whose two small planes were shot down by Cuban MiG fighter planes off the island's coast in 1996.

The offer is intended to publicly pressure the U.S. government into resurrecting investigations of long-standing claims of criminal wrongdoing. But -- more important -- it also is intended to weaken Raul Castro and his allies politically and to complicate or even make illegal his succession.

"It would throw a wrench in the machinery," Basulto said of the hoped-for indictment.

Basulto already has enlisted influential figures. Guy Lewis, a former U.S. attorney in Miami who prosecuted Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega and was instrumental in the indictment of three Cuban airmen for the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down, said in an interview Monday that "there is significant evidence" in the public record to warrant indicting Raul Castro in connection with drug trafficking and the shoot-down or, at the very least, to prompt law enforcement to further investigate.

Evidence surfaced in the Brothers to the Rescue investigation, Lewis said, that Raul Castro was at the top of the chain of command that ordered the civilian group's planes shot down. During the Noriega trial, Lewis said, witnesses testified that Raul Castro facilitated cocaine smuggling to the United States. Drug kingpin Carlos Lehder has implicated Raul Castro in testimony in other cases. And a former hit man -- now in a Colombian prison for a political assassination -- who worked for drug kingpin Pablo Escobar told Spanish television network Television Espanola this month that Raul Castro was the Medellin cartel's contact for drug shipments to Miami. (Read the whole thing).

Additionally, Raul may have a lot more difficulty pounding his iron fist than did Fidel:
Nonetheless, most Cuba experts doubt Castro's death will bring an immediate transition toward more democratic government. Instead, they say, Raul Castro is most likely to follow his brother as the next leader of Cuba. "There are a few academics out there who assert that inevitably the reformers will win the post-Fidel struggle. I don't think so," says Juan del Aguila, a political scientist and Cuba expert at Emory University in Atlanta. "There is no reformist political faction in evidence now." Any would-be reformers among Cuba's top officials who call for liberal democracy would be purged, he says. "They would immediately become nonpersons."

Brian Latell, a retired Cuba expert at the Central Intelligence Agency, agrees that Raul Castro will probably emerge as Cuba's new leader. He makes the point in his new book, "After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next Leader." But Mr. Latell says Raul Castro will not have the free hand that his brother has enjoyed in defending the revolution at the expense of the Cuban people. "After Raul takes over there will be a very, very widespread and deeply based pent-up demand for change - for political, social, and economic decompression," Latell says. "I think Raul is going to have to deal with that. Those are going to be among his gravest challenges."

Such pressures alone won't be enough to force democratic reforms, Latell says. "My guess is that [Raul] is going to adopt a Chinese model, remaining tough politically - no democracy, no opposition parties - but [pushing for] a fairly wide economic opening," he says.

"Of course it is a slippery slope," the retired intelligence officer says. Raul Castro "knows what happened in the Soviet Union so he's going to have to be very careful."
The story is, as they say, developing.