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Castro Ruz, Raúl (1931–)

Castro Ruz, Raúl (1931–)

Raúl Castro, Cuban revolutionary and military leader, is the younger brother of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and one of the original members of the 26th of July Movement that organized the successful overthrow of the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Raúl Castro was born on 3 June 1931, in Oriente Province (now Holguín province) to an affluent landowning family. His father, Angel, was a native of Galicia, Spain; his mother, Lina Ruz González, was Cuban. As a youth he attended Catholic schools in Oriente Province and went on to study at the University of Havana. Unlike his brother Fidel, Raúl was early attracted to Marxism, and while a student at the university he joined the Socialist Youth Branch of the Partido Socialista Popular (PSP).

Raúl and Fidel Castro found common ground, however, in their hatred of the regime of Fulgencio Batista and the pervasive role the United States played in all aspects of Cuban life. Raúl fought alongside his brother during the struggle to overthrow the Batista regime. In 1953 Raúl was imprisoned along with Fidel for the attack on the Moncada Barracks and joined his brother in exile in Mexico after Batista declared a general amnesty in 1955. Raúl helped Fidel plan the 1956 landing of a small band of revolutionaries from the boat Granma in southeastern Cuba. This invasion culminated in the ouster of Batista in 1959, and when the new revolutionary government took power, Raúl was named minister of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces.

As hostilities with the United States grew after the revolution, both Raúl Castro and Che Guevara were instrumental in influencing Fidel Castro to turn to the Soviet Union for economic and military aid. Whereas Fidel initially denied he was a communist, Raúl openly courted the Soviets while attacking the United States. With the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year, Raúl played an integral role in moving Cuba from the U.S. to the Soviet sphere of influence.

As a trusted adviser to Fidel, Raúl has increased his power considerably over the years. Many have charged the Castro brothers of running the Cuban government as a family-owned business. While Fidel holds the title of president of the Council of Ministers and president of the Council of State, Raúl holds the offices of vice president of both the Council of Ministers and the Council of State. In addition, Raúl is second in command of the armed forces behind his brother Fidel. Raúl is also a member of the Politburo and second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party. He has been president of the Agrarian Reform Institute since 1965 and is responsible for the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of the Interior, the Secretariat of the President, the Ministry of Public Health, and the Children's Institute. In 2006 Fidel name Raúl temporary head of state while Fidel underwent surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding. He was officially elected president in February 2008, upon Fidel's resignation.

Raúl Castro and his supporters built a modern army capable of protecting Cuba against U.S. aggression and of launching military forays abroad. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and economic crises at home, the Cuban military, led by Raúl, is increasingly prominent in Cuban industries such as manufacturing and tourism. Once regarded as an ideologue by comparison with his pragmatic brother Fidel, Raúl Castro has since shown greater flexibility, especially in guiding the direction of Cuba's economy. Raúl has endorsed limited capitalist foreign investment, as well as market incentives for Cuban producers, as a remedy for the nation's economic ills. Although Raúl possesses considerable power, he lacks Fidel's charisma, and most Cuba-watchers doubt that he would be able to fill his brother's shoes if Fidel were to die.

Raúl Castro's wife, Vilma Espín Guillois, also played a prominent role both during the revolution, when she fought with the Castro brothers against Batista, and after the revolution, when she founded the Federation of Cuban Women. Because Fidel lacked an official "wife," Vilma played the role of official first lady. Vilma Espin and Raúl Castro had four children; she died in 2007.

While there has been much criticism of Raúl, he and his brother Fidel did lead a successful revolt against both a despised dictator and the overbearing economic and political hegemony of the United States. Although it was widely accepted that Cuba could not survive without massive Soviet military and economic support, since the collapse of the Eastern bloc, Cuba shows few signs of internal turmoil, and since the late 1990s the Cuban economy has been growing. Raúl Castro can take part of the credit for that.

See alsoCuban Intervention in Africa; Cuba, Revolutions: Cuban Revolution; Cuba, Twenty-Sixth of July Movement.


Primary Work

Castro, Raúl, and Fidel Castro. Selección de discursos acerca del partido. Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, Instituto Cubano del Libro, 1975.

Secondary Works

Fitzgerald, Frank T. Managing Socialism: From Old Cadres to New Professionals in Revolutionary Cuba. New York: Praeger, 1990.

Latell, Brian. After Fidel: Raúl Castro and the Future of Cuba's Revolution. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

McManus, Jane, ed. From the Palm Tree: Voices of the Cuban Revolution. Secaucus, NJ: L. Stuart, 1983.

Suárez, Luis, ed. Entre el fusil y la palabra. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1980.

                                   Michael Powelson

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