The Miami Herald
August 3, 2001

Castro 'a master performer,' expert says

Scholars gather to study issues related to Cuba and its leader


 Until he takes his final breath, President Fidel Castro of Cuba will continue to sharpen his skill as a trickster who keeps people guessing about his next move, one of the country's top Cuba scholars says.

 ``Fidel Castro has been, since his early years, a master performer,'' said Georgetown University Professor Brian Latell, a retired Central Intelligence Agency analyst with a specialty on Cuba and Castro.

 Latell made the comments Thursday at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables during the 11th annual meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy -- a forum for academics, economists and other intellectuals from across the United States. About 250 people were in attendance.

 Latell says Castro is not the character he is now playing on stage -- a ``benign, loveable grandfather who is not threatening, who's preparing carefully for a peaceful

 ``He is a different person behind the facade,'' Latell said. ``He is a revolutionary who continues to despise and fear the United States. This is not an apolitical grandfather.''

 In addition to dissecting Castro's psyche, participants will spend time analyzing Cuba's economy, civil society, agriculture, transition issues, humanitarian aid and the
 impact of economic sanctions. The convention, sponsored by the University of Miami, ends Saturday.

 Latell said Cuba's political future is inextricably intertwined with Castro's ``state of mind, health, state of aspirations and what we might expect him to do next.''

 He said Castro, who turns 75 on Aug. 13, has managed to control Cuba's destiny because of his skills as a leader. He said he was one of the best informed world leaders today who has adapted to hard times by allowing counter-revolutionary actions, such as using U.S. dollars to boost Cuba's economy.

 The exceptions, though, have come at a great cost for Castro's revolution because it has introduced class distinctions, generational tensions, racial and regional
 disparities, corruption and crime.

 ``Almost every principle and value has been compromised,'' Latell said. ``He has been revealed as a helpless hypocrite.''

 Age, though, has served Castro by keeping him focused, Latell said. He has delegated more responsibility to other members of his government and appointed more
 sophisticated individuals to positions of power.

 But it is unlikely that Castro will allow anyone else, including brother Raúl Castro, to succeed him while he is alive and coherent. And it is doubtful anyone would ever be able to deliver a comparable performance, Latell said.

 Even Castro's recent fainting spell, the first such public spectacle during 42 years of the revolution, was described as fatigue on a hot, summer day. The declaration came from Castro himself.

 The illusions have stretched beyond personality, Cuba experts said. Castro also has managed to create an image of prosperity under the guise of a revolution that
 continues to evolve.

 ``He has been very careful at managing images of himself and images of the revolution,'' said Cuban exile economist Jorge Sanguinetty, who served as the head of Cuba's National Investment Planning Department between 1963-66.

 ``Unfortunately, his opposition -- exiles, dissidents and even the U.S. government -- has not been skillful enough to counter-balance Fidel Castro's ability to manage those images,'' Sanguinetty said.

 Analysts said what remains unclear is how he will be portrayed in the long run -- as a leader who succeeded at instilling socialist values or a dictator who destroyed a

 ``In history, he'll be recognized as an enormous figure, a figure who for four decades played a role on the world stage,'' Latell said. ``But his legacy in Cuba and the world will be very small.''

                                    © 2001