Raul Castro is the current President of Cuba and brother of the Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. Most of his life was spent under the shadow of his elder brother and he was always seen as the right hand of Fidel. Raul played a very important role in the Cuban Revolution as well as in formation of the government of Cuba, after the revolution was over. He helped his brother plan and execute the socialist revolution, which overthrew the dictator Batista, in the 1950s. He is most famous for his role in Cuban military. He has been counted amongst Cuba’s top-ranking military officers since soon after the Revolution.
Childhood & Education
Raul Castro, born on 3rd June 1931, was one of the five children of a sugar farmer Angel Castro and his wife - Lina Ruz Gonzalez. Young Castro was sent to the same school as his elder brother, but unlike his brother, he was not very much interested in studies. He did his early studies from the Jesuit school Colegio Dolores, in Santiago de Cuba and later, he was sent to Jesuit school Colegio Belen, in Havana. While Raul was studying at the University of Havana, he developed an interest in politics. He became a member of the Juventud Socialista (Socialist Youth), an affiliate of the Moscow-oriented Partido Socialista Popular, Cuba's Communist Party. He also joined a student communist group and eventually, became a leader of these student groups, which took part in protests and demonstrations. Because of his rebellious nature, he had a history of discipline problems.
Moncada Assault & Imprisonment
From the very beginning, Raul Castro supported Fidel in his planning for revolution against Batista. Like many socialists, he was also disgusted by the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. He was only 22 years old when he actively participated in the first armed action of the rebels, on July 26, 1953. The team attacked the federal barracks at Moncada. Raul was one of the members of the team sent to occupy the Palace of Justice. Raul group managed to secure the palace, though they got late on account of their car getting lost. After the operation was finished, Raul and his team dropped their weapons and walked out onto the street in civilian clothes.
Raul and his team members failed to escape and were arrested. He and his elder brother were sentenced to 13 years imprisonment. He was sent to the Isle of Pines prison, along with his brother and other leaders who participated in Moncada assault. In the prison, they began plotting the '26th of July Movement', named after the date of the Moncada assault. Together, the group decided how to continue the revolution. In 1955, due to international pressure on President Batista, he had to release the men who were responsible for the Moncada assault. Raul and his brother stayed in prison for around 22 months. To save their life, they immediately went into exile, in Mexico.
Exile & Return to Cuba
During his time in exile, Raul met Ernesto “Ché” Guevara, an Argentine doctor and a committed communist. Soon they became friends. Castro then introduced his new friend to his brother - Fidel Castro - and their friendship proved to be very beneficial for their revolutionary plans against Batista. Raul took an active role in the '26th of July Movement'. He, along with Fidel, Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, was amongst the 82 people who returned to Cuba in November 1956 and started the revolution.
The army soon discovered the rebels and attacked their camp. After the attack, only around 20 out of 82 rebels were able to survive and moved their camp to the Sierra Maestra Mountains. The two brothers began collecting recruits and weapons for their mission. In 1958, Raul was sent to the north-coast of Oriente Province, at the post of Comandante, where he had a force of 65 men. While there, he imprisoned about 50 Americans, hoping to use them to keep U.S. from intervening on behalf of Batista. However, the hostages were released soon.
Triumph of the Revolution
Raul's forces remained active in the coming months and by October, the two brothers had the supports of around 2,000 supporters. They were now operating, unhindered, throughout Oriente province. In December 1958, Fidel sent Cienfuegos and Guevara as Comandante of most of the rebel army, in important cities. They took over Maffo and then headed to Santiago de Cuba, the capital of Oriente province. When Guevara won the Battle of Santa Clara, Batista realized he could not win and fled the country, on January 1, 1959. Raul and Fidal, along with other rebels, proudly came back to Havana. Raúl and Che started rooting out supporters of former dictator Batista, immediately after the revolution was over. Raul, who had already begun setting up an intelligence service, was then made in-charge of overseeing the summary execution of Batista-loyalists.
Raúl Castro became a member of the National Leadership of the Integrated Revolutionary PO Organizations, established in July 1961 ( dissolved on March 1962), and the United Party of the Socialist Revolution of Cuba, established on March 1962 (dissolved on October 1965). He participated as a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and the Second Secretary of its Politburo. He was also appointed as the First Vice President of the Cuban Council of State, of the National Assembly of the Popular Power and of the Council of Ministers. Raul became the Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces in October 1959, when the Ministry was founded (and served till February 2008). In the early 1990s, Raul persuaded his elder brother - Fidel - to implement agricultural market reforms, which increased the food supply.
Assumption of Presidential Duties
On July 31, 2006 Personal secretary of Fidel Castro - Carlos Valenciaga -announced on a television that while Fidel recovered from intestinal surgery to repair gastrointestinal bleeding, Raúl would take over the duties of President of the Council of State of Cuba, First Secretary of the Communist Party and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. There are different views of different people about Raul's as a future political leader. Many see Raul as being more pragmatic than Fidel and there was some hope that he would loosen the restrictions which he has placed on Cuban citizens. He has done so, although not to the extent that was expected.
Cubans can now own cell phones and consumer electronics, but drastic fundamental changes are yet to be introduced. In view of many critics, Raul lacks the charisma and supernatural power of leadership that Fidel had. They feel that he will have difficulty maintaining political control, once he takes over. Some people think more positively on the issue and predict that he may be more open to economic reform than his brother. Raul has been criticized for the persecution of dissidents and homosexuals. Even his alcoholism problem raised doubts about his future leadership. During the transfer of duty period, Raul remained largely out of public view.
Raul has been seen in few public appearances till date. He was seen hosting a gathering of the leaders of the Non-Aligned nations in September 2006 and leading the national commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Granma boat landing, which was also celebrated as Fidel's belated 80th birthday. On May 1, 2007, Raúl was seen on the May Day celebrations in Havana. According to Granma, a crowd of over one million people, including delegations from over 225 organizations and 52 countries, participated in this celebration. Presently, the entire world is watching to see what Raul will do once he steps out of his brother's shadow.
President of Cuba
The National Assembly elected Raul Castro as the President of Cuba on February 24, 2008. Shortly afterward, he delivered his inaugural address. During his presidency, Raul's government has announced several economic reforms. The government has removed restrictions against the purchase of the products that were forbidden under Fidel's term, like DVD-players, computers, rice cookers and microwaves.It has also turned over unused state-owned land to private farmers and cooperatives, to increase food production. To reward hard-working employees with higher wages, the salary structure of all state-run companies was overhauled in 2008.The government has also removed restrictions against the use of cell phones and is investigating easing the travel restrictions on Cubans. According to Parade Magazine 2009, Raul Castro is ranked at number 13, in World's Worst Dictator list.
Raul Castro is the youngest of the three Castro brothers. He also has four sisters - Angela, Juanita, Enma, and Agustina, and two half siblings - Lidia and Pedro Emilio. Immediately after the triumph of Cuban revolution, Raul married his long time sweetheart and fellow revolutionary Vilma Espín. In 1960, Vilma became the President of the Cuban Federation of Women. Raul's wife, Espin served as Cuba’s first lady for decades because Cuban leader Fidel Castro is divorced. Raul had four children with Vilma - three daughters, Déborah, Mariela and Nilsa, and one son, Alejandro Castro Espin. Mariela is currently heading the Cuban National Center for Sex Education. One of his grandchildren is the chief of his security detail. One of Raul's sons-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodríguez, a high-ranking military officer, is in charge of the armed forces.
A daughter and some relatives of Raul are believed to reside in Italy. Castro lost his wife Vilma on June 18, 2007. Raul's personal life was very normal. Although there were always been rumors about his divorce with his wife, but none of them were conformed and they were usually seen together in public. In an interview, Raul said that he and his wife argue with each other sometimes, like any married couple does, but this doesn't mean that they don't love each other or are separated. The rumors that Angel Castro was not his real father can also be heard, but they were neither denied, nor confirmed.
Role in Government & Military
Raul Castro has always been seen as Fidel's right hand. When Fidel transformed the revolution into government, he came to rely more on Raul. After the revolution, Raul was appointed as head of the Communist Party, Minister of Defense and Vice President of the Council of State, apart from holding many other important positions. However, Raul is most famous and most identified for his role in the military. He has been Cuba’s top-ranking military officer since soon after the Revolution. He was appointed first Deputy Prime Minister in 1972. He is considered the world's longest serving defense minister. At present, Raul is commanding more than 45,000 soldiers and has expanded the military's reach into many aspects of the Cuban economy. Succeeding his elder brother Fidel Castro, he is now serving as the President of Cuba.