The Miami Herald
Fri, Aug. 06, 2004

Castro is called 'no longer invincible'

Cuba experts told the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy that a weakened Castro could mean an unstable Cuba.


Cuban President Fidel Castro has lost his ''prophetic, charismatic and inspirational abilities,'' leaving the island's political stability uncertain, the CIA's former top Cuba expert said Thursday.

Castro is ''no longer invincible,'' said Brian Latell, now with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was addressing the annual meeting of the Miami-based Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE).

Latell said Havana's leader, who will turn 78 on Aug. 13, has ''lost his prophetic, charismatic and inspirational abilities,'' and as a result has become more constrained by aides, who now even write some of his speeches.

That implies that Cuba's political stability is uncertain, and that its people could even face chaos or a ''conspicuously military regime'' if Castro's leadership continues to deteriorate, Latell said.

Latell was among four panelists who addressed the opening session of ASCE's three-day conference in Miami. ASCE is largely made up of academics and business people interested in Cuba issues.

Also addressing the opening session, Phil Peters, a Cuba expert with the Washington-based Lexington Institute, said the economic openings Cuba adopted in the early 1990s -- after its massive Soviet subsidies ended -- were positive in the beginning but `now we see things slipping into reverse.''

The island now has a ''culture of illegality,'' because of the mixture of private and state-controlled economic activities, and could achieve more positive results with ''minor changes,'' he said.

But as long as Castro is in power, Peters stressed, ``they're going to keep things as they are.''

Adolfo Franco, assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said that despite the Cuban government's crackdown on dissidents last year, ''there is an unstopable movement for change'' on the island.