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Cuban Leaders Ready for Post-Castro Transition

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Raul Castro is not so much younger than Fidel himself - he's 75 - and many believe that Raul Castro's administration would be one of transition. Reporter John Lee Anderson, in an article for the New Yorker, looked at who might run Cuba when Fidel Castro dies. He joins us now. Hello.

Mr. JOHN LEE ANDERSON (Reporter, New Yorker): Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now in writing that Raul would share power, you spoke of three men who have been in Castro's inner circle. Who are they?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, one is the foreign minister, the 43-year-old Felipe Perez Roque. He is considered in some ways the ideological spokesman for Castro. He is an extreme loyalist, very close and a protégé of Fidel. Some tip him as the man most likely to lead what they call the relief team, or triumvirate.

The other is Ricardo Alarcón, a veteran insider - long been negotiator with the Americans, former foreign minister and U.N. ambassador for Castro. And the third would be Carlos Lage, the economic star - like Felipe Perez Roque, one of the second generation of revolutionaries, but a long loyalist of Fidel.

MONTAGNE: So all of them a big younger, at least, if not very much younger. Do these men - in what you might call the triumvirate - share enough of Fidel Castro's ideology that they would continue along the path that he has set?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, people refer to Felipe Perez Roque as the one who has most bought into the revolutionary ideas, a committed Marxist-Leninist, a firm believer in the path that Fidel has set out for Cuba.

Very often, Americans and others who have had experience with Alarcón, who's closer to Fidel in age - he's about 70 - regard him as a moderate, primarily because they like him and because he has dealt with him in the past. And he lived in New York for 12 years, and he's sort of America-friendly. But he is not exactly a moderate in U.S. terms. He is also a man who believes in Marxism-Leninism, but he is a regarded as a pragmatist.

Carlos Lage as well. In his mid-50s - although he was raised within the revolution - he presided over many of the limited market reforms that Fidel authorized in the mid-90s, and is also regarded as something of a moderate. So it's a mixed bag.

And one has to remember that even though these are the people that people around Fidel nowadays talk about as the relief team, they could be changed at a moment's notice. But their names have consistently been in the hat as the three key members who would help Raul manage effective government in the event of Fidel's demise.

MONTAGNE: Could there be, though, a struggle for power?

Mr. ANDERSON: They say no. They have had - for a long time now - both the Politburo of long-term veteran members, and then a younger (foreign language spoken) they could be called in Cuba - sons and daughters of the revolution. People in their 40s and 50s who have been raised under the shadow and under the wing of Fidel and his inner council.

Their revolutionary commitments beyond question, and very, very committed to the idea that Cuba remain on this course - primarily in its contests with the United States, whom they believe will eventually try to erode its sovereignty, bring back the Cuban exiles, and so on.

I think there could be schisms within the revolution. Whether or not it would break out into open factional fighting or not - I find that, frankly, rather difficult to foresee. I think that there's more likely to be some kind of outbreak of civil unrest in Cuba than factional fighting within the revolutionary higher circles.

MONTAGNE: Is it likely that the Cuban people would force whoever takes power to liberalize the country politically and/or economically?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, this is what many, many people say. But, you know, at the moment, Cubans are fed up with the containment, particularly of their economic life. And that is probably the area where the pressure cooker could come off. And there could be demands, even street demonstrations calling for economic reform.

One person very close to the revolutionary leadership told me that whatever happened when Fidel died, that they'll have to make some reforms quickly in order to satisfy the pent-up demand of so many Cubans who - while Fidel is alive - find themselves incapable of expressing that sort of desire publicly.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much, John.

Mr. ANDERSON: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: Reporter John Lee Anderson, whose article in the New Yorker is called Castro's Last Battle.

And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.