Where the Next Castro Might Take Fidel's Cuba ; Some Analysts Say Raul Could Open Up the Country's Economy and Start to Ease Hostilities with the United States

Article excerpt

Where Fidel Castro is known as the publicly charismatic visionary, his younger brother Raul is the technician, the talent scout - the consummate manager.

Fidel sees China's gradual shift toward free-market reform as a betrayal of socialism. Raul, the pragmatist, sees it as an economic reality, which someday may have to be implemented in Cuba.

As second-in-command, Raul has only recently emerged from the shadows, but experts say the two brothers have balanced their strengths and weaknesses since they plotted the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

Now that Fidel has handed temporary control to Raul as he recuperates from gastrointestinal surgery as announced Monday night, analysts are weighing the kind of regime that his 75-year-old brother would form while at Cuba's helm.

So long as Raul is a provisional leader, no one expects anything but the status quo. Even in the long-term, many say his economic instincts and organizational knack won't amount to much in the face of domestic and foreign pressure.

But should Raul eventually become the permanent leader of Cuba after Fidel's death, some analysts say the less-iconic younger brother could ultimately start to build consensus and open up the country's economy - allowing greater numbers of Cubans to set up restaurants, rent out rooms to tourists, and sell farm products to local markets. Some believe this could also start to ease hostilities with the United States.

"After Raul had a chance to put his own stamp on things, I would expect better relations with the US," says Brian Latell, a former CIA agent who authored a biography of Raul called "After Fidel." "That would be something that would reflect the overwhelming desire of the Cuban people. In other words, it would be a politically smart move."

Over the years, Raul has steadily taken on more state responsibilities. But he does not share widespread support among the general population, experts say, because they view him as brutal, after the hard line he is believed to have taken with his enemies in the early days of the revolution. Most of his support comes from the military, which he has run for over 45 years.

"He does not occupy the same place in the historiography of the Cuban Revolution as his brother," says Mark Falcoff, author of "Cuba, the Morning After." "But you don't have to be popular to be a dictator."

Raul's economic vision

Raul's economic vision is where most see room for change after Fidel. The military has largely been handling tourism, which requires foreign investment.

When the subsidies of the Soviet Union disappeared with its collapse in 1991, it was Raul who urged the opening up of incentives to farmers to be able to sell surplus goods to local markets, reforms which have been scaled back in recent years. Many say he would likely reinstitute and expand such measures.

"If Raul Castro introduces some sort of reforms or openings, even those that maybe are not that large," says Ian Vasquez, director of the Project on Global Economic Liberty at the libertarian CATO Institute, "those might be cracks in the system that are difficult to control, and may make it hard to hold Cuban socialism together."

This movement could be meaningless for better US-Cuba ties, however, if the US continues to refuse to deal with any member of the Castro team. A report issued recently on US plans in a post- Fidel Cuba pledged $80 million to bolster Cuban democracy. "Raul is perfectly capable of bringing about some change," says Wayne Smith, a former US diplomat in Havana. …