What is Castro’s Cuba like today?



The latest guest speaker at the Friends of the Library lecture series held at The Studios of Key West this month was Brian Latell, a Cuba analyst with 35 years experience in the Central Intelligence Agency.

Latell’s latest book is “Castro’s Secrets: Cuban Intelligence, the CIA and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy.”

At the urging of Judith Gaddis of the Friends, Shirrel Rhoades, Tim Gratz and this writer, who together have written extensively and conducted a seminar at the community college on the Keys connections to the Kennedy assassination, invited Latell to join us for lunch at the Peruvian restaurant across from Author’s House on White Street, where his fluent Spanish was a joy to hear.

Latell, visiting Key West with his wife Ann, is a charming man and a compelling conversationalist with a host of information he feels free to share.

Our take-out from the meeting included two priceless pieces of information in answer to many questions.

One of those is why, in April 1961, no air U. S. cover was launched, nor was a flotilla of gunboats readied in Key West deployed across the straits, to ensure the success of the Bay of Pigs invasion. The answer: Both President John Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy had good reason to believe, absolutely, that Fidel Castro would have been assassinated by the time the invaders from the U.S. arrived.

The other revelation was that the Russians, in addition to their intercontinental ballistic missiles assembled in Cuba, also had smaller missiles capable of reaching Key West with nuclear payloads comparable to the bombs that had obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki; that was what the Hawk missiles on Smathers Beach were there to bring down.

Here is the essence of Brian Latell’s revelations regarding the state of Castro’s Cuba today, the subject of his sold-out talk at The Studios.

Fidel Castro is 87, making him the oldest world leader at this time; King Hussein is slightly younger. Fidel Castro’s brother Raul, today the official leader of Cuba, turned 83 last week. Meanwhile Fidel’s health remains, as always, a state secret.

The brothers are very different, emphasized Latell. They are related through their mother “but probably not through their fathers.”

Raul was the “producer” of the revolution; Fidel the “director.”  Each needs the other; Fidel is what one would call ADHD; Raul is more grounded. Raul is head of the armed forces and extremely organized. Fidel has always considered himself head of state.

It was Raul’s military that succeeded in invading Ethiopia. It was Raul who had to rescue Cuba from it’s “calamitous” condition and over the past 7½ years he has succeeded in altering its economy through structural and perceptible changes and — and in brief rather than endless speeches. He has said things that Fidel has never said, for example that all Cuba’s problems do not necessarily all come from the United States.

The average wage in Cuba today is between $10 and $20 a month, mostly paid by the government to government workers. There is no wealth in the country to redistribute.

Raul’s pledge is to put the three foundations of Fidelista thought, egalitarianism, paternalism and idealism, finally to rest. He wants to cut one million people from the government work force (he has already cut 600,000). His budgets have slashed health-care and welfare costs. Cubans must now fend for themselves and Fidel’s vision that everyone should live at the same level is a Marxist tenet that Raul knows will never work.

Fidel also expended enormous resources on the international stage, craving to become a Titanic world figure. That is not Raul’s ambition.

So what are the 600,000 former government employees doing? Raul has begun granting licenses for performing services, essentially legalizing the black market. There are now between 180 and 190 categories specified by law, from seamstresses to web designers. And the earnings are taxed.

The one thing that has had to stop, however, is the screening of American 3D movies in private homes. That, commented Latell, was simply too creative for Raul.

Meanwhile, sugar, for a century a mainstay of survival in Cuba, no longer plays any role in the island’s economy.

Poverty is on the increase, especially among the elderly, and young people are having a hard time supporting their parents.

Raul now permits the buying and selling of houses in Cuba (there have been 80,000 transactions so far this year) and the government is also allowing the possession of cell phones — although the bills are largely paid by relatives in the U.S.

Cuba’s economy over the post-revolution decades, and even more so these days, has deeply depended on the “hardline diaspora;” that is, the departure of anti-Castro Cubans who’ve thrived in Florida and maintained a connection with relatives on the island.

The fact is that, one way or another, two billion dollars in cash and goods are flowing into Cuba from Miami.

Every year.

“The generation that wanted to kill Fidel Castro,” concluded Latell, “are old now. Their grandchildren simply don’t feel that way.”

Meanwhile history shows that Fidel, still alive and still honorary head of state in Cuba, has never wanted better relations with the United States, never once since his victor’s speech in 1959 when he first spewed forth his anti-American venom.













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