Who's Raul Castro?

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Cuba's parliament officially elected 76-year-old Raul Castro to be the new President of Cuba. Raul has lived in his older brothers shadow for most of his political life. Will his rule be a sequel to his brother's?

ALISON STEWART, host:

Cuba's parliament official elected 76-year-old Raul Castro to be the new president of Cuba. For most of his personal and political life, Raul has lived in his older brother's shadow, yet managed to wield influence behind the scenes in ways that you might not imagine. Now will his rule as president be a sequel to his brother? Or will Raul Castro change the way Cuba runs?

The author of "After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next Leader," Brian Latell, joins us. Brian, good morning.

Mr. BRIAN LATELL (Author, "After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next Leader"): Good morning. Pleasure to be here.

STEWART: And I have to say, really - I love your book. I enjoyed your book. It's quite informative. And you can learn a lot about the Castro brothers from their very, very early days. You talk a lot about how they grew up. Raul is a middle child in the Castro family. What was it like for him growing up as Fidel's brother?

Mr. LATELL: He was always in Fidel's shadow. And even today, perhaps, you could say that the shadow lingers. Raul is very different from Fidel. He's not an assuming person. He's not narcissistic person. He doesn't like to be out in public very much. He's much more shy. He doesn't have many of the same leadership qualities that Fidel has. For example, he doesn't give speeches very well, and he's not charismatic. But unlike Fidel, on the other hand, Raul is a super well organized person. He's systematic. He's diligent. He's very personally disciplined. He's not spontaneous or charismatic as Fidel is. The point, I think is, on balance, that over these 50 years, they have complimented each other in an extraordinary way, the strengths of one complimenting the deficiencies of the other. It's been a genuine partnership between the Castro brothers.

STEWART: What role did Raul play in the revolution?

Mr. LATELL: Raul was at Fidel's side from the very beginning, from the very first shots fired in July of 1953. He went to prison with Fidel. They trained together in Mexico. They resumed the insurgency. Raul has been at Fidel's side really, as a warrior, as a revolutionary, since 1953.

STEWART: And Raul was really quit enthusiastic about the communist movement in Cuba - some say more than Fidel.

Mr. LATELL: Yes. In many ways he was, but it's a matter of overt-covert.

STEWART: Yeah, okay.

Mr. LATELL: Raul - at least that's the way I describe it in - after Fidel. I think that Raul was brought to communism, coaxed to - the study of Marxism/Leninism by his brother Fidel. Fidel understood - had already Marxism/Leninism. He was very attracted to it as a university student, and it was Fidel who coaxed Raul and instructed Raul in Marxism/Leninism. So Fidel remained secretly attracted to Marxism, while Raul sort of came out, if you will, as a young Marxist.

STEWART: And we should point out to the folks who are listening to us that you were a fairly high-ranking U.S. intelligence officer dealing with many things - all things in Cuba. So you do have some information about the way this country was run that a lot of us probably don't know. One thing I did want to ask about was Raul was a leader, and as an army general - although he's not quite as big as Fidel or as imposing as Fidel, he could be as brutal.

Mr. LATELL: Oh, absolutely yes. Raul has a - I mean, quite literally, a lot of blood on his hands. He was at - right at the front of many, many executions. I describe Raul's first political murder. He did it Mexico, 1956, a little over 50 year ago. He - at Fidel's insistence, Raul executed another Cuban who the Castro brothers considered to be not sufficiently loyal. As far as I've been able to determine, it was the first time Raul had ever committed such a crime, but there were many, many other executions that Raul committed - some personally during the insurgency and some years later.

STEWART: Raul had his own group of loyalist, the Raulistas. What made them loyal to him?

Mr. LATELL: He's someone who wins and earns the loyalty of other men in ways very different from the ways Fidel Castro always operated. Raul has around him today men who have been at his side for 50 years, or 50 - even a little bit more that 50 years. In this new leadership alignment that was just announced yesterday in Havana, there are two men - two generals. They're both three-star generals at the top of the military chain of command who have been with Raul since the guerilla days - that is to say in the late 1950s. Raul win their loyalty and retains their loyalty by collaborating with them. He leads more collegially. He seeks their advice, their counsel. He gets to know them on a very deep personal basis. He and their families get to know each other, and these men reciprocate the loyalty that Raul shows to them. It's very different with Fidel, because over the years, Fidel was very, very - it was very difficult for Fidel to maintain long, trusting relationships with other officials. Fidel, frankly, more paranoid if that's - that may not be exactly the right word. Suspicious - Fidel has always been more suspicious of others around him.

STEWART: We're speaking with Brian Latell. He's the author of "After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next Leader." We know who that is. It is Raul Castro. Brian, I'm going to ask you to stick around, because I do want to ask you one or two more questions.

Mr. LATELL: Sure.

STEWART: Just a little bit about how Raul Castro might rule differently, especially when we talk about the economic situation in Cuba, which is, of course, quite difficult for the locals there. So please do stick around. We'll be back in just about 60 seconds.

You're listening to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News. We do have some more stuff coming up as well. Rachel, what else?

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

We do. Lickable ads. That's right. What some advertisers will do to get your attention. Would you lick a magazine? I don't know if I would. Also, we're going to talk to a man who has a lot of discipline, in my opinion. He writes a short story everyday on his blog. Every day - every weekday, that is. They're interesting, sardonic, funny, poignant little pieces of work. And we're going to talk with him in the studio.

STEWART: Not to mention Ralph Nader says he's running for president. We'll try to figure out why.

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STEWART: Stay tuned to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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STEWART: You are listening to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

And we do want to button up our conversation about Raul Castro. We're talking to former U.S. intelligence officer Brian Latell, who is also an author and have studied all things Castro - both brothers, Raul and Fidel.

So Brian, we've talked a little bit about who Raul Castro is. Let's talk about little bit about what he might be able to do. For the people in Cuba, the economic issue is completely at the forefront. There's this dual currency system. Now Raul Castro may be a good thing. He's described as a pragmatist when it comes to economic issues. What kind of changes might he implement?

Mr. LATELL: Well, I think that politically, we really can't expect much change. He - this new leadership team that he unveiled yesterday is old guard, pretty tough. In terms of political continuity under the Marxist system, I think it's going to be - I think it's going to hold pretty tight. But they realized - this new leadership team and Raul especially - they understand fully that they must improve economic performance. They simply have to be able to give more opportunity, more economic - a greater economic stake to that deeply disaffected younger generation on the island. Raul did speak - he delivered a fairly long speech yesterday when he revealed the new leadership team.

STEWART: Not as long as Fidel's, though.

Mr. LATELL: No.

STEWART: It wasn't any four-hour affair.

Mr. LATELL: That's exactly right. He doesn't give long speeches. But in his speech yesterday, he did make some interesting comments about the currency. The dual currency is a very, very difficult problem for the leadership. It's extremely unpopular because it creates, basically, two classes: a privileged class of Cubans who have access to hard currency - dollars, let's say - who are - that are sent by their relative in the U.S., and then another much larger group of Cubans who have to subsist on the Cuban peso which doesn't have much value, doesn't buy very much.

So this dual currency is very - potentially very destabilizing. It's extremely unpopular on the island. It divides Cuban society in ways that are just not consistent with the values that the revolution has espoused all these years.

STEWART: Brian Latell is the author of "After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next Leader." Brian, thank you very much.

Mr. LATELL: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

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