CUBA: Big Changes in Castro’s Guard


raul catro white shirt.jpgSomething big is up in Havana. So big that some are saying that Fidel Castro has finally moved on to the next world — though I don’t believe this to be the case.
Others are saying that they saw Fidel out in public today on an odd shuffling, walk about, flanked by well armed security guards — and a trailing Mercedes.
What has happened is that Raul Castro, now President of Cuba, has sacked his brother’s closest followers and advisers in government.
Both Vice President Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque have been given pink slips. These were Fidel’s most obvious heir apparents and his chief ideological spear carriers in the next generation of Cuban political leadership.
This is one of those historical pivot points in normally opaque (often Communist) regimes that will be remembered for generations.
Raul Castro seems fully in control now — and he’s done with ideology.
Raul not only demands pragmatism from his team, he wants a government that “works” and which can function with greater efficiency than the past. This is particularly the case given the grim reality that the global economic crisis is hitting Cuba hard — as the price of oil has made Venezuela’s patronage less robust and global tourism to and investment in Cuba have both taken significant hits in recent months.
Ideology is on feeble legs throughout Cuba despite Senator Bob Menendez‘s anachronistic screed on the floor of the Senate this afternoon about Cuba’s governing villains. Menendez today seemed to be pining for the enemies of the past, so the warped politics of anti-Cuba, anti-Castro compulsive obsessiveness could live another day.
But Menendez is behind the times and has been complicit in undermining American national interests with Cuba for far too long — and he and others in Cuba who have strangled opportunity for a new course in US-Cuba relations should pay a political price for for their destructive intransigence. Menendez should go check in with his friends at the formerly right wing Cuban American National Foundation who for the most part think that pols like Menendez, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Diaz-Balart brothers in Congress, and their Democratic Party ally Debbie Wassmerman Schulz went way too far in strangling Cuban-American family emergency travel and financial remittances.
We are at one of those significant punctuation points in Cuban history.
We may be at a real moment of opportunity in US-Cuba relations if Obama’s team of foreign policy hands can find the guts and smarts to realize that it was wrong during the Bush administration for a Cold War with Cuba to actually get colder over the last ten years — and to realize that incrementalism only works in times of historical continuity.
As Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, James Baker, David Abshire, Paul Volcker, Thomas Pickering, George Soros, Bill Joy, Jeffrey Sachs, Joseph Stiglitz, Francis Fukuyama, and many others have said — this is a time of significant “historical discontinuity.”
Change is needed and is a smarter, better choice than incrementalism and inertia.
Let’s not see a Foreign Affairs article written this next year titled “Who Lost Cuba?”
Cuba matters a great deal — far beyond its 11 million people and beyond even Latin America. Cuba is the ripest fruit for picking on America’s tree of foreign policy options.
Change there can happen at extremely low cost to the United States. And America’s approach will telegraph much about exactly what kind of America Barack Obama is trying to usher forth in this next phase of restoring U.S. benign moral, economic and political prestige. . .and power.
— Steve Clemons


15 comments on “CUBA: Big Changes in Castro’s Guard

  1. Kt D says:

    The entire scenario with Raul Castro and his removal of some of
    Fidel’s top officials is interesting. Fidel will always say that he is in
    the know and has helped contribute to whatever decision is made-
    -probably because he has always had a fear of appearing weak–
    but whether or not he truly knows what Raul has in mind is another
    matter. I hope that Raul is truly trying to separate himself from his
    brother’s rule, possibly even attempting to give Cuba some focused
    goals for the near future. I watched an interesting video on all of
    this earlier today at It’s worth watching:


  2. Circles Robinson says:

    I have the feeling that Cuba will work out its problems especially if it faces up to them. Now is the perfect time for the US to concentrate on its financial mess and drop the never-ending blockade on neighboring Cuba. The Obama administration and Congress have a chance to make history but they’d have to break with the old guard Cuban-American exile lobby in Miami and that’s not easy to do as they make large campaign donations to both the Republicans and the Democrats. I believe that Cuba is no threat to the United States and despite its current mess, the US should be able to withstand normal relations with Cuba.
    For a taste of Cuba check out:


  3. David says:

    Which attack would never have happened, just as (fortunately) we never launched any nuclear attacks on the Soviet Union. We were right to find those nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba repugnant and utterly unacceptable, but then the Soviet Union was equally justified in finding the same positioned on their borders utterly unacceptable, just as the world was, and still should be, regarding any and every nation stationing nuclear-armed missiles anywhere, anytime, for any reason. This dance of death has not ended, and if we are lucky, it won’t end in blinding flashes. It was luck that carried the day in the Cuban missile crisis, but we need something more than luck for the sake of our posterity. MAD was, and still is, just that – quite mad.


  4. B Colb says:

    The U.S. obsession goes back to fear of communism and the reality
    that long range missiles preceded missile defense systems so for a
    time in our history we were completely defenseless against an
    attack on U.S. soil coming from Cuba.
    I think little raul is a little more savvy than maybe we give him
    credit for. heres some more context.


  5. Paco Padin says:

    I realize they’re both senators and both Cubans. Martinez, the Florida Republican, and Menendez, the NJ Democrat. Both their last names also start with an M.
    This may be the reason why you start off your posting referring to Sen. Bob Menendez’s senate floor speech today, and then invariably continue to refer to him as Martinez throughout the rest of your posting.
    This only serves to confuse the issue as to whether a Democrat or a Republican is pulling the “appointment hold” stunt.
    So, which is it?


  6. Frank says:

    Raul is rewarding old teammates with promotions to share in the important turnover to a new generation of leadership in Cuba.
    Note the ”elder” generals and the younger civilians.
    And the best bet to be named President of Cuba is a longtime government supporter, faithful and an effective leader in every post he has held from the”Juventud” to resolving local economic and political problems from Santiago de Cuba to Holguin and now to Havana.
    He is a newly named ”vice president” as well as minister of transportation ( far more important job in Cuba than it would be in the U.S,) and at 47 with a ”friendly” trimmed beard, the next president is to be Jorge Luis Sierra.


  7. rich says:

    Meanwhile, Senator Menendez has decided now is the time for a cheap political stunt. He’s “pulling a Collins.” Or a Lieberman.
    Seems holding up Obama for everything he can get, in the middle of a crisis, is Robert Menendez’s idea of responsible behavior.
    (FYI, he’s my senator.)


  8. David says:

    While I agree with Montserrat Nicolas that referring to Cuba as fruit to be picked by the US (I felt a frisson of the 1950s mindset regarding Guatemala and United Fruit)is not the best of metaphors here, as a Floridian represented by Mel the Lite, as opposed to Mel the Light, I can only hope that not only is Senator Martinez retiring, so are his ideas regarding Cuba, at least in the Senate, hopefully in the House, and at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
    Cuba’s closeness is certainly a major factor. It is, for all practical purposes, a border nation. Our policy of the past half century could be reasonably described as moronic.


  9. Montserrat Nicolas says:

    As I said in a reply to your email:
    Why this crazy obsession with Cuba in the US?
    Because it is closer?
    Funner [sic]?
    And I can’t believe you wrote the following “Cuba is the ripest fruit for picking on America’s tree of foreign policy options”…
    Steve, have some respect for other countries.
    Cuba, and NO other country for that matter is anybody’s ‘fruit’ to be picked.


  10. Evans says:

    President Raul Castro announced major changes in the Cuban government on Monday after a year of evaluating his cabinet members.


  11. Pacos_gal says:

    Hmm, perhaps Raul is trying to make himself sound like the Cuban Obama.
    I think Raul has laid his cards on the table and is sending the message that he would like a normalization of relations with the U.S.
    He has so far had to do this within the constraints of Fidel’s established government. Is he perhaps trying to change that now and form his own government, with his own ideas and people, which would allow him far more leeway in any future negotiations?
    This is sending a very clear message to the U.S. that Cuba has a near Leader, set upon a new course of action and not just a continuation of the previous government.


  12. Spunkmeyer says:

    No better way to jumpstart the South Florida economy than to
    normalize relations… just saying.


  13. Ben Rosengart says:

    You make Raul sound like the Cuban Obama.


  14. Pacos_gal says:

    It seems Raul has finally really taken over from Fidel. It’s about time.
    You are exactly right Steve, Obama’s government needs to find the guts to end this fiasco of a policy on Cuba.
    It is time for Martinez and others like him, who rode the back of Fidel into politics to find other jobs.
    I think this cold weather is starting to make me grumpy. I find I am not having the patience that I usually have in relation to these aggravating foreign policy issues.


  15. JohnH says:

    “Raul not only demands pragmatism from his team, he wants a government that “works” and which can function with greater efficiency than the past.” Maybe he should replace Geithner and get some heads on Wall Street rolling…


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