A gaggle of democratic states gathered in Santiago, Chile, in late January handed over leadership of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations to Cuba for the coming year.
The whitewash of Cuba’s abominable human rights and personal freedom record was quickly noted. The Santiago conclave started what has been an excellent run of events for the Castro brothers, especially Raul.
Raul and Cuba remain a hidden hand operating deep within Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution. While the extremely ill Chavez is back in Caracas, Raul has insider knowledge about the Venezuelan leader’s health. He is in a position to plan accordingly. Moreover, Chavez’s chosen successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, is believed to be thick with the Cubans.
Raul plays the U.S. skillfully, encouraging fresh “end the Cuba embargo” pressures and hinting at better relations ahead while trying to do a prisoner swap with the U.S. He is apparently willing to return imprisoned U.S. pro-democracy worker Alan Gross in exchange for five convicted Cuban spies in Miami. Raul administered the latest rejection of a plea for Gross’s release to a delegation from Congress led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D–VT), who sees the case as an impediment to better relations that we need to work around.
While the peace talks in Havana between the government of Colombia and narco-insurgent/terrorists of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) may be losing momentum, Cuba benefits from its apparent readiness to promote a peaceful end to the prolonged conflict. Any deal that legitimates FARC, in part a throwback to Cuba’s early revolutionary era, will also burnish Cuba’s negotiating credentials.
And just to remind Washington that Cuba is far from friendless, Raul hosted a visit from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Havana to sign debt-reduction and aircraft-leasing deals with the Russians.
Finally, on February 24, Raul won re-election in his rubber-stamp congress for a final five-year term and anointed a hard-working party apparatchik, Miguel Diaz-Canel, to take over the reins of power when Raul steps down in 2018. It seems that Raul firmly approves of term limits after 49 years in power.
All in all, Raul Castro is having a good run at home and abroad. For now, he appears to be punching well above his weight. Sadly, with the Obama Administration chasing in various directions, from sequestration to Syria, it is still trying to locate Latin America on the world map.