Politics & Policy

Who Is Raúl Castro?

A tyrant only a brother could love.

So who is Raúl Castro? While Western experts speculate that he may plan on shifting Cuba toward collective leadership and democracy, that’s nothing but wishful thinking. To be sure, I wish they were right, but Raúl has transformed a paradise on earth into a shambles, and there is good reason to believe that he will turn Cuba into an even worse tyranny.

I met Raúl many times, both in Cuba and in Romania. He had coordinating responsibility for the Cuban intelligence service (the Dirección General de Inteligencia, or DGI), and in the early 1970s he entered into a drug venture with my former service (the Departamentul de Informatii Externe ,or DIE). Whenever he was not in Havana or Moscow, he was in Bucharest. We worked, talked, fished, and snorkeled together. We challenged each other at the firing range; he was an excellent shot. Together we raced our identical Alfa Romeo cars. I saw nothing in him suggesting he might ever want to democratize Cuba.

Raúl was always under the influence — of alcohol and self-importance. My Cuban intelligence counterpart in those days, Sergio del Valle, who was Raúl’s closest associate going back to their early days in the Sierra Maestra, used to call his boss “Raúl the Terrible” in a semi-serious allusion to the first Russian to crown himself tsar. Raúl was Cuba’s uncrowned tsar — his official title was “Maximum General.” Fidel gave the speeches, hour after hour. Raúl ran Cuba’s economy, her foreign policy, her foreign trade, her justice system, her jails, her tourism — even her hotels and her beaches.

Raúl is generally perceived as a colorless minister of defense, but he has also been the brutal head of one of Communism’s most criminal institutions: the Cuban political police. I met him in that capacity. He was cruel and ruthless. Fidel may have conceived the terror that has kept Cuba in the Communist fold, but Raúl has been the butcher. He has been instrumental in the killing and terrorizing of thousands of Cubans, and there is no question in my mind but that he would fight tooth and nail to preserve his powers. Otherwise, sooner or later Raúl would have to account for his crimes, and I do not know him to be suicidal.

Before meeting Raúl in the flesh, I had gotten a general picture of him from Nikita Khrushchev and General Aleksandr Sakharovsky, the creator of Communist Romania’s intelligence structure, and by this time head of the Soviet foreign intelligence service, the PGU (Pervoye Glavnoye Upravleniye). That was in 1959. Both Soviets had arrived in Bucharest on October 26 for what was billed as a “six-day vacation in Romania.” Never before had Khrushchev taken such a long vacation abroad, but neither was his visit to Romania a vacation. He was there to discuss the on-going Cuban revolution with the current Romanian leader, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, until then the only Communist tyrant ruling a country of Latin heritage.

Khrushchev dreamed of going down in history as the Soviet leader who had installed Communism on the American continent, and he was prepared to go to any lengths to see that dream come true. But Khrushchev did not trust Fidel, believing he was a stranger to Marxism. The leaders of Cuba’s Communist party were convinced that Fidel was a dangerous adventurer, and the Soviet party bureaucracy was also reluctant to endorse him.

Khrushchev did trust Raúl, though. According to Sakharovsky, who had secretly brought Raúl to Moscow in the mid-1950s, it had been love at first sight. Both Nikita and Raúl loved vodka. Both were fascinated with Marxism. Both hated school, religion, and discipline. Both considered themselves military experts. Both were obsessed with espionage and counterespionage. And both liked to sleep with their boots on. Sakharovsky considered the “warm relationship” between the two men to have convinced Khrushchev to throw himself entirely into the Cuban revolution.

At Khrushchev’s order, Sakharovsky had given Raúl an intelligence adviser: Nikolay Leonov, the PGU’s best expert on Latin America. Leonov (today a retired KGB lieutenant general and member of the Duma) provided Raúl with intelligence on the military forces of the then Cuban dictator, Batista, and helped Raúl plan his guerrilla war. In June 1957, Leonov gave him documents and photographs showing that Washington was providing weapons and logistical support to Batista, and he suggested that Raúl take a few dozen Americans hostage to force Eisenhower to withdraw from the conflict. Raúl did so. On June 26, 1958, his guerrilleros kidnapped fifty American and Canadian military and civilian personnel working in Cuba. Fearing for the lives of the hostages, Batista declared a cease-fire. That enabled the Soviets to bring new weapons into Cuba.

The course of the Cuban revolution was changed forever. The era of political kidnappings was also introduced.

On the night of December 31, 1958, Batista fled Cuba, and the Castro brothers took over the country. During the following month, Raúl organized the execution of hundreds of police and military officials of the Batista regime. The prisoners were shot and the corpses buried in mass graves outside of Santiago de Cuba.

A year later, Soviet deputy premier Anastas Mikoyan landed in Havana. He was welcomed by Fidel, Raúl, and the country’s new KGB adviser, Aleksandr Shitov. The latter’s task was to help Raúl create a Cuban KGB and a Soviet-style army. In 1962 Khrushchev took the unprecedented step of appointing Shitov as ambassador to Cuba. Soon, Moscow started secretly building rocket bases in Cuba.

Khrushchev, Raúl, and Shitov — not Fidel — pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war.

In April 1971 I visited Cuba as a member of a Romanian government delegation attending a ten-year celebration of Castro’s victory at the Bay of Pigs. A couple of days after the ceremony, Raúl invited me to go ocean fishing on his boat, together with Sergio del Valle. The other guest was a Soviet civilian who introduced himself as Aleksandr Alekseyev. “That’s Shitov,” del Valle whispered into my ear. “He’s now Allende’s advisor.” (The Marxist Salvador Allende had been elected president of Chile the previous November.) There, on that boat, it hit me more clearly than ever before that it was Raúl, not Fidel, who was holding the reins of the Cuban revolutionary wagon.

In 1972 I prepared an official Ceausescu visit to Havana, and I was also at his right hand during it. Fidel was the figurehead, Raúl the factotum. The Cuban first lady was not Fidel’s wife, but Raúl’s. Elena Ceausescu wrinkled up her nose at that, but eventually the two first ladies hit it off splendidly. Both Elena and Vilma Espin Guilloys were school dropouts, both pretended to be chemists, both had acquired phony doctoral degrees, both had joined the Communist party before it had come to power in their countries, both became members of the Council of State, and both were presidents of their countries’ Federation of Women organizations.

During that visit, the Castro brothers and Ceausescu laid the foundation for a bilateral drug venture. They wanted to flood the world with drugs. “Drugs could do a lot more damage to imperialism than nuclear weapons could,” Fidel pontificated. “Drugs will erode capitalism from the inside,” Raúl agreed. I never heard the word “money” pronounced, but I was already administering the money Romania was making from its own drug trafficking. All of it was going into Ceausescu’s personal bank account. By 1978, when I left Romania for good, that account, called AT-78, held a balance of some $400 million — in spite of the substantial dents Elena made in it when she bought furs and jewelry for herself.

In 2005, Fidel was furious when Forbes Magazine estimated his fortune at $500 million. This year, the magazine upped his worth to $900 million. Particularly in view of Cuba’s penury, this amount is surely more than enough for Raúl to bribe his political cronies and buy any new allies he needs.

In 1973 I spent a “working vacation” in Havana. Raúl gave me a tour of a huge factory manufacturing double-walled suitcases and other concealment devices for secretly transporting arms and explosives for terrorist purposes. By then Raúl’s DGI was working around the clock to expand Cuba’s political influence in South America and the Third World. In particular, they were striving to consolidate the Sandinistas’ power in Nicaragua, to foment a bloody war in El Salvador, and to help the Soviet/Cuban-backed MPLA (Movement for the Liberation of Angola) to rise to power in Angola. Raúl’s DGI and his military also had advisers and instructors in Palestine Liberation Organization bases and had established close cooperation with Libya, South Yemen, and the Polisario Front for the Liberation of Western Sahara. In the mid-1970s my DIE was working jointly with Raúl’s DGI to support the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist, anti-American insurgency organization whose task was to spread Communism to South America.

In December 1974 Raúl came to Bucharest to request intelligence and political support for his new National Liberation Directorate (DNL), a party/intelligence group tasked to coordinate Cuba’s guerrilla and terrorist training camps and to prop up national liberation movements and anti-American governments such as those of Nicaragua and Grenada. He got both.

Of course I no longer have inside access to information about Raúl’s export of terrorism and revolution, but I note that in 2001 his FARC took credit for 197 killings in Colombia. On April 11, 2002, the same FARC kidnapped 13 Colombian lawmakers from a government building in Cali and held Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt hostage. On February 13, 2003, FARC shot down a CIA plane carrying out electronic intelligence-gathering in southern Colombia, taking three CIA officers hostage. Now Raúl’s FARC is seeking to overthrow the pro-American government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, whose father was assassinated by FARC in 1983. I also note that the Communist president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, who idolizes the Castro brothers, has threatened to stop exporting oil to the U.S. and intends to start a conventional war against neighboring Colombia, the main U.S. ally in the region.

Neither within Cuba nor in the outside world does anyone have a clear picture of Fidel’s health — physical or political. Yet perhaps there is something else going on there that Raúl may have learned from his KGB masters. Leonid Brezhnev died on November 10, 1982, but the KGB chairman, Yury Andropov, managed for a few days to keep his death secret from the public, to gain time for maneuvering himself into the driver’s seat. Once settled into the Kremlin, the cynical Andropov hastened to portray himself to the West as a “moderate” Communist and a sensitive, warm, Western-oriented man who allegedly enjoyed an occasional drink of scotch, liked to read English novels, and loved listening to American jazz and the music of Beethoven. Andropov was none of the above.

Raúl may try to also portray himself as a peaceloving angel. But Andropov’s age of secrecy is gone. I pray that others who know Raúl as well as I knew Ceausescu will come forward and disrobe the Cuban tyrant, allowing the world to see him naked, the way he truly is: an assassin and international terrorist who made a fortune from the illegal sale of arms, drugs, and human beings.

– Lieutenant General Ion Mihai Pacepa is the highest-ranking official ever to have defected from the former Soviet bloc. On Christmas Day of 1989, Ceausescu and his wife were sentenced to death at the end of a trial where most of the accusations had come almost word-for-word out of Pacepa’s book Red Horizons.

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