CubaBrief: Raul Castro announced resignation as Communist Party chief, and a look at some past crimes that he can now answer for in international courts

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First Secretary of the Communist Party Raul Castro speaking at the Convention Palace in Havana, April 16, 2021. © Ariel Ley Royero, AFP

Raul Castro (age 89) said today (April 16, 2021) he is resigning as head of Cuba’s Communist Party, “ending an era of formal leadership by he and his brother Fidel Castro that began with the 1959 revolution,” reported the Associated Press. Three years earlier, Raul Castro handed over the office of the presidency to his hand picked successor Miguel Díaz-Canel on April 19, 2018. The dictatorship used this to give the impression that there was a transition underway to a post-Castro era in Cuba back then and they are repeating the same messaging now. General Raul Castro remained head of the communist party, the maximum authority, controlled the military, and headed the commission that drafted the new constitution in 2018. Now he is formally ceding the position of the head of the Communist Party, according to press accounts and analysts, to someone not named Castro, but the devil is in the details.

General Raul Castro Ruz and his son Colonel Alejandro Castro Espin

General Raul Castro Ruz and his son Colonel Alejandro Castro Espin

This is not a transition but a succession to a new generation of the Castro dynasty led by Alejandro Castro. People outside Cuba may not know it, but Cubans on the island already do. Cuban independent journalist Camila Acosta, and member of the 27N intellectual movement explained to Deutsche Welle on April 16, 2021 that “for a long time, it has been the son of Raúl Castro, Alejandro Castro Espín, who moves the strings of the country. Raúl would only officially retire, although he should remain aware of everything perhaps as an authority figure as part of that ‘historical elite’ of the Revolution.”

Raul Castro’s son, Colonel Alejandro Castro Espin (age 55), who negotiated the normalization of relations with the Obama Administration is an intelligence officer who also organized the 2014 Vladimir Putin visit to Cuba, regularly visits Russia for high level meetings, and is a hardliner who in 2009 wrote The Price of Power, a harshly critical appraisal of the United States that describes U.S. leaders as “those who seek to subjugate humanity to satisfy their interests and hegemonic goals.” He was also the go to person during the Trump Administration.

President Barack Obama meets with Colonel Alejandro Castro in 2016

President Barack Obama meets with Colonel Alejandro Castro in 2016

According to The Miami Herald in the August 26, 2020 article “Former Trump campaign manager traveled to Cuba to meet ‘Castro’s son,’ Senate report says” in early January 2017, “when the Cuban government was looking for insights into President-elect Donald Trump, his former campaign chief, Paul Manafort, traveled to the island to meet with ‘Castro’s son,’ according to a U.S. Senate report” and the newspaper identified this “son” as Alejandro Castro.

Raul and Alejandro Castro meet with Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Raul and Alejandro Castro meet with Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

General Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, Raul’s former son-in-law, manages 60% of the Cuban economy through the military conglomerate GAESA. He had been married to Deborah Castro Espin, and had two children with her. General Lopez-Callejas has a first cousin, Arturo Lopez-Callejas, who changed his name to Arturo Lopez Levy and worked in the Cuban intelligence services, and is now in the United States regularly cited as a “political analyst.”

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Diaz-Canel, like Osvaldo Dorticos who was president of Cuba from 1959 to 1976, answers to the Castros. The same holds true for Manuel Marrero Cruz, the prime minister.

The succession is not to make Miguel Díaz-Canel or Manuel Marrero Cruz the new dictator, but to maintain the Castro dynasty in control of Cuba. Some experts believe that Raul Castro does not want to have a formal succession to a new generation of Castros because it would open them up to charges of Cuba being a monarchy. This critique was leveled at Havana following the transfer of power from Fidel to his brother Raul Castro in 2006. It is also a critique frequently made against Cuban ally North Korea.

Now that General Raul Castro is leaving office, and is no longer head of state there are charges against him that can be pursued in international tribunals. This was the case with General Augusto Pinochet’s detention on October 16, 1998 in London due to an arrest warrant from a Spanish National Court to extradite him to Spain to stand trial based on the doctrine of universal jurisdiction. Raul Castro’s crimes stretch back to the first days of the Castro regime. On January 12, 1959 he ordered the mass execution of over 70 Cubans by firing squad and executions were recorded for broadcast.

Brothers to the Rescue shootdown victims

Brothers to the Rescue shootdown victims

There are numerous crimes that he has committed, but his admission on a June 1996 recording that he planned and gave the orders to shoot down two Brothers to the Rescue planes that extrajudicially executed Armando Alejandre, Carlos Costa, Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales on February 24, 1996 are cause for prosecution and extradition.

“I said try to knock them down above the territory, but they would enter Havana and leave …. Of course, with one of those rocket fire, plane-plane, what comes down is a fireball and it’s going to fall above the city “, Castro recounts on the tape, referring to a military meeting prior to February 24, 1996.” Well, put them in the sea when they show up; if not, consult those with the powers. “

According to journalist Wilfredo Cancio Isla of El Nuevo Herald in the August 20, 2006 article “Raúl ordenó el derribo de las avionetas” (Raul Castro ordered the shootdown of the planes), “the 11-minute and 32-second recording documents a conversation at the provincial headquarters of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in Holguín. The meeting was held on June 21, 1996 with the participation of government officials and journalists from the national radio station Radio Rebelde.”

Another case that requires an international investigation is the July 22, 2012 killings of Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante. On July 22, 2015 Javier El-Hage, and Roberto González of the Human Rights Foundation released a 147 page report titled The Case of Oswaldo Payá that concluded.

“Information that emerged in the months that followed and that was not at all considered by the Cuban court that convicted Carromero – consisting of witness statements, physical evidence and expert reports – suggest direct government responsibility in the deaths of Payá and Cepero. Specifically, the evidence deliberately ignored by the Cuban State strongly suggests that the events of July 22, 2012 were not an accident – as was quickly claimed by authorities in the state-owned media monopoly and later rubber – stamped by Cuba’s totalitarian court system – but instead the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the State, acting (1) with the intent to kill Oswaldo Payá and the passengers in the vehicle he was riding, (2) with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm to them, or (3) with reckless or depraved indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to the life of the most prominent Cuban activist in the last twenty-five years and the passengers riding with him in the car.”

These are but three instances traced back to Raul Castro, but there others, including taking part in a genocide in Ethiopia that needs to be explored when examining General Castro’s legacy, and the victims demands for justice.

Ethiopian war criminal Mengistu Haile Mariam (R) stands with Fidel Castro (C) and Raul Castro (L) during a visit to Havana, Cuba, 25 April 1975.

Ethiopian war criminal Mengistu Haile Mariam (R) stands with Fidel Castro (C) and Raul Castro (L) during a visit to Havana, Cuba, 25 April 1975.

National Review, April 16, 2021

Raul Castro to Resign as Communist Party Head in Cuba

By Zachary Evans

April 16, 2021 3:46 PM

Raul Castro announced on Friday that he will resign as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Castro’s resignation marks the first time since 1959 that a Castro brother will not hold a significant leadership role in Cuban government. While Miguel Díaz-Canel was appointed president of Cuba in 2018, Raul Castro, who turns 90 in June, remained involved in leadership of the country.

The Communist Party of Cuba will convene its eighth congress from Friday to Monday, during which it is expected to name Díaz-Canel as secretary. Castro said in 2018 that Díaz-Canel would take over as secretary in 2021, when Castro planned to retire.

Castro took power following the death of his brother, dictator Fidel Castro, in November 2016.

Cuba is one of the world’s last remaining communist countries, and the nation faces numerous challenges while recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. The Cuban economy contracted by 11 percent during 2020, bringing food shortages and a shutdown of the country’s tourism industry.

It is unclear if any major changes to Cuba’s governance will occur after Raul Castro’s departure. The Biden administration does not currently plan to change current policies regarding the country.

“Oppression against Cubans is worse today than perhaps during the Bush years,” Juan Gonzalez, executive director of the National Security Council, said in a Spanish-language interview with CNN earlier this month.

WSVN, April 16, 2021

Raul Castro confirms he’s resigning, ending long era in Cuba

HAVANA (AP) — Raul Castro said Friday he is resigning as head of Cuba’s Communist Party, ending an era of formal leadership by he and his brother Fidel Castro that began with the 1959 revolution.

Castro made the announcement Friday in a speech at the opening of the Eighth congress of the ruling party, the only one allowed on the island.

Castro didn’t say who he would endorse as his successor as first secretary-general of the Communist Party, but he previously has indicated that he favors yielding control to Miguel Diaz-Canel, who succeeded him as president in 2018.