3 Women May Lead Post-Castro Cuba

3 Women May Lead Post-Castro Cuba
Josefina Vidal
      If she wants it, Josefina Vidal can be the post-Castro leader of Cuba. The 85-year-old Fidel Castro "thinks she walks on water"; the 80-year-old Raul Castro "thinks she is the smartest person on the island"; and the 81-year-old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura "thinks she would be the best guerrilla fighter on the island if such a defense is ever needed." Those salient depictions of Vidal from the Castro brothers and Ventura, easily the three most powerful Cuban men and the last of the famed revolutionary guerrilla fighters, comes courtesy of a keen insider source -- one of Fidel's eight sons, all of whom live modestly and are essentially non-political. Vidal is currently the ultra-powerful Minister of North American Affairs for Cuba and twice she has turned down Fidel's offers for promotions. However, last week after reading a Miami Herald article about what the top three Republican presidential candidates were promising the Cuban exiles, she confided to a close female friend: "An Obama loss next November would change my mind about retiring. Or...maybe I study the Miami Herald too much."
Gladys Bejerano
      If she wants it, Gladys Bejerano can be the co-leader of post-Castro Cuba. The CIA, which famously has gotten most of its assessments of Cuba wrong over the decades, now astutely ranks Gladys as the third most powerful government official in Cuba, behind only 80-year-old Raul Castro and 81-year-old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura. Today, far above anyone else on the island, Gladys makes the uncontested decisions regarding anything that resembles anti-revolutionary corruption on the island, either foreign or domestic. No one...repeat, no one -- over-rules her regardless of what, where, when or against whom her decisions are rendered.
Alejandro Castro Espin
       Alejandro Castro Espin, the son of Raul Castro and Vilma Espin, works in a low-profile position for Gladys Bejerano.
Vilma Espin
     Vilma Espin, a famed guerrilla fighter in the Sierra Maestra, married Raul Castro in 1959 and is the mother of his four children. From 1959 till her death from cancer on April 7, 2009 at age 77, Vilma was, except for the military aspect, more powerful and more high-profile than Raul...and her overall power on the island was exceeded only by her revolutionary friends Celia Sanchez and Fidel Castro.
       The above photo shows Celia Sanchez at the bedside of Vilma Espin the day Vilma gave birth to Alejandro Castro Espin in 1965. At the time, Celia and Vilma were arguably the two most powerful people on the island, Celia the decision-maker fully backed by Fidel Castro and Vilma the wife of Raul Castro and the absolutely unchallenged head of the Cuban Federation of Women.
      The above photo shows Celia Sanchez and Vilma Espin in 1957 in the Sierra Maestra when they were guerrilla fighters against Batista. Celia, as always, was the studious one, befitting the fact that she was also the chief recruiter (of rebels and supplies) and the prime decision-maker.
Photo courtesy: Getty Images
      In addition to an Alejandro Castro Espin there is an Alejandro Castro Soto del Valle. He is shown above with his girlfriend and mother Dalia Soto del Valle. Dalia married Fidel in 1980 shortly after the death of their beloved Celia Sanchez and at the direct request of Celia on her deathbed. Alejandro is the only one of Fidel's and Dalia's five sons that still lives at home, which (as the CIA well knows) is a modest house on 166th Street in the Siboney section of Western Havana. From 1959 till Celia's death from cancer (at age 59) on Jan. 11-1980, Fidel spent most of his nights at her modest little apartment on 11th Street in Havana.
Leira Sanchez Valdivia
      Very ambitious and exceptionally bright and capable, the still young and already powerful Leira Sanchez Valdivia will likely get her wish to someday be the sole leader of Cuba, although she will probably have to follow the now 50-year-old Vidal and the grandmotherly Gladys.  Leira is the leader of a wave of fresh female pro-revolutionary nationalists who have swept into the Cuban political scene determined to keep the island free of foreign domination "regardless of what sacrifice we must make or what price we must pay." It is well known that the precocious Leira keeps her eyes peeled on both Miami and Washington. At the moment she is the strongest leader of an emerging force that seems capable of dominating the future course of the island. Like Fidel Castro and Jose Marti themselves, Leira's prime strength lies in her fervent desire for Cuban sovereignty, especially the more it seems threatened by Miami or Washington. As a politico, Leira is smart enough to know that her base in Cuba is strengthened markedly as anti-Cuban rants and rhetoric (such as from pandering presidential candidates who never fail to promise radical Cuban exiles they will soon regain control of the island) gets louder and more frequent. Leira is emblematic of the creation and manifestation of a new generation of Cubans who want more freedom and more wealth but most of all desire an independent and sovereign Cuba, making them much more pro-Castro than pro-Miami. Would they fight a foreign attempt to regain dominance of the island? Leira's answer: "You betcha." But, even if you win it might mean Wal-Marts would not saturate the island. Reply: "So what? Neither would Miami." Fidel's son Alejandro recently summed up Leira's influence as opposed to, say, that of the Western world's beloved anti-Castro bloggers whom Leira (and many others on the island) believe are financed from abroad: "My dad loves Josefina and Leira and my uncle is afraid of just one person on the island, and that's Gladys. But everybody loves Josefina and Leira and everybody is afraid of Gladys. So...go figure."  Uh, yeah...go figure. And while doing so, note that Alejandro always passes on any chance to criticize dissidents because that rather small contingent is usually well contained by the perception that they are financed or influenced by foreign entities. That perception, as Leira well knows, pits the majority on the island against dissidents. Nationalism, independence, and sovereignty pervade the islanders, and Leira comprehends that fact: "Marti fought and died for that; Fidel fought and lived for that. That's where we stand and that's why we will build a stronger firewall. We will fight and die or fight and live." 
 General Ulises Rosales del Toro
      As things now stand, the only Cuban male likely to compete for the top position in post-Castro Cuba is General Ulises Rosales del Toro. He will turn 70 on March 8, 2012.
Generals Ulises Rosales del Toro, Ramiro Valdes, and Raul Castro (left to right)     
      Ramiro Valdes, shown above in the middle, is Raul's other most beloved and still living revolutionary general. But the still powerful Valdes turns 80 on April 28, 2012, so he is the same age as Raul and a full decade older than del Toro.
General Juan Almeida
      Juan Almeida, a black Cuban who fought alongside Raul Castro in the Sierra Maestra, was a political power on the island till he died of a heart attack at age 82 on September 11, 2009. Till his death, Juan was considered Raul's closest friend.  
Jose Ramon Machado Ventura
      Jose Ramon Machado Ventura is now the strong #2 man in the Cuban government, behind only Raul Castro.
       Shown above standing between the uniformed Ramiro Valdes and Raul Castro, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura turns 82 on October 26, 2012. With both Castro brothers and all the other historic and still living male revolutionaries in their 80s, the 69-year-old General Ulises Rosales del Toro is Raul's choice to lead post-Castro Cuba but even Raul will not attempt to block the path of a much younger Cuban, including females favored by the 85-year-old Fidel. 
         Fidel Castro, mostly retired now except for writing his Reflections of Fidel essays, has strong desires and lofty visions for a woman to be the leader of post-Castro Cuba. And the three that tickle his fancy the most are Josefina, Gladys, and Leira. That puts them in the favorites role, even ahead of Raul's favorite (General del Toro) because when the smoke and the fog and the haze clears away on post-Castro Cuba and fades out to sea, the leadership of the island will come down to two factors: (1) Fidel's legacy and (2) the emerging demands of the majority of Cubans on the island who were not even born when Fidel came to power on January 1, 1959. Yes, many Cuban-watchers believe that the two prime factors that will predicate the post-Castro leadership on the island are (1) Miami and (2) Washington.  But having been to Cuba, and having noted the effect Leira Sanchez Valdivia has on young Cubans and Josefina Vidal has on middle-aged Cubans,  I'll stick with my two factors till proven wrong. Indeed, if Miami and/or Washington are viewed as the prime predators, there will surely be more revolutionary blood shed on the island.
          The fact that all three of the likely post-Castro leaders will be Cuban women is neither accidental nor coincidental.
       Beginning in 1952, it was Cuban women who bravely took to the streets to begin the fight to oust the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. At the time it was considered impossible because no nation had ever come close to overthrowing a dictatorship backed by the United States, the nearby world superpower.
       Cuban women like the fearless Celia Sanchez were the leading recruiters, planners, and fighters both before and after macho men like Fidel, Che, and Camilo finally made it to the Sierra Maestra.
      Cuban insiders, meaning real experts like Marta Rojas, consider the above photo to be very appropriate and definitive. It shows Celia Sanchez poring over notes while Fidel Castro relaxes in his rocking chair with his shoes (or slippers) off. Celia, after all, "made all the decisions for Cuba, the big ones and the small ones" according to insider Roberto Salas, the great photographer and author. Thus, Fidel's primary role was to back up her decisions, and he did so whether or not he agreed with them.  Cuban insiders knew that and so did his best American biographer, Georgie Anne Geyer.
 Marta Rojas
      Marta Rojas, quite healthy and just shy of her 82nd birthday, is the renowned revolutionary-journalist-author who knows more about Celia Sanchez, Fidel Castro, the Cuban Revolution, and Revolutionary Cuba than anyone on earth.
        As depicted in the above photo,  young Marta Rojas introduced Fidel Castro for his very first television address in 1959. She also knows what he had for dinner last night. After I returned from Cuba and just before the publication of my biography of Celia Sanchez, Marta Rojas told me via e-mail in 2005: "Since Celia died of cancer in 1980, Fidel has ruled Cuba only as he perceives Celia would want him to rule it." (Yes, I still have that e-mail). Re-reading that sentence from Marta reminds me of why three women -- Josefina, Gladys, and Leira -- are currently positioned ahead of any men on the island (or in Miami) to be the post-Castro leaders of Cuba.
     All his life Fidel Castro has been most comfortable around women, and his two all-time favorites (as his wife Dalia knows) were Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria, depicted above.
      Fidel remembers that it was the guerrilla warriors Haydee and Celia who presented him his first rifle when he finally joined their fight in the Sierra Maestra. And he remembers that Haydee committed suicide in 1980 because of the death of her dear friend Celia. "I know," Marta Rojas says, "that if there are only two things that Fidel has thought about every single day since 1980, those two things are Celia and Haydee. And when it comes to Celia, it's probably every hour."
       Fidel's son Alejandro says Josefina Vidal reminds his father of Celia Sanchez. That alone means that the 50-year-old Josefina Vidal has an excellent shot at being the post-Castro leader of Cuba, if she wants it. It is also known that the 85-year-old Fidel has cast favorable eyes at the young,  feisty, and ambitious Leira Sanchez Valdivia. That also means that Leira Sanchez Valdivia has a pretty good shot at being a future leader of Cuba.
Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil
(Photo courtesy: Bra Silia/Reuters)
     It is also neither accidental nor coincidental that females now and always have been Fidel Castro's greatest admirers, and that includes some of Latin America's new crop of democratically elected women leaders. The economic and political Latin American superpower, of course, is Brazil. Brazil's new president, Dilma Rousseff, worships one living soul -- Fidel Castro. And today (Jan. 31-2012) she flies into Havana to see her idol Fidel and to firm up Brazil's funding of such things as a $800 million refurbishing of a container terminal at the port of Muriel,  $200 million for Cuban farmers to buy tractors, and financing for sugar-cane ethanol technology. Prior to her trip to Cuba this week, President Rousseff told Anthony Boadle of Reuters that, like her wildly popular predecessor Luiz Inacio Lulu da Silva, she idolizes Fidel as the world's greatest anti-imperialist revolutionary. She reminded Boadle that, like Fidel, she was imprisoned and tortured -- she for three years beginning in 1970 and him for two years beginning in 1953 -- for fighting against U. S.-backed military dictators in their respective countries. Boadle began that Jan. 25th article with these words: "Some forty years ago, Dilma Rousseff was a guerrilla fighter working clandestinely to bring a version of Cuban leader Fidel Castro's revolution to Brazil. How times change. When Rousseff visits Cuba next week as Brazil's president she will have capitalism on her mind, specifically the building of a container terminal at the port of Muriel aimed at future trade with the United States when Washington one day lifts its 50-year-old embargo of Cuba."  She also indicated that Chinese-style capitalism is what Fidel and her have in mind for post-Castro Cuba.
  Cristina Kirchner, President of Argentina 
   Cristina Kirchner, who has recently been  reelected overwhelmingly as the President of Argentina, is as big a booster of Fidel Castro as the Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff. During a week when it appeared he was dying, President Kirchner flew to his bedside to help care for him.
Michelle Bachelet
(Photo courtesy: LoDeRaulo
       Michelle Bachelet was the very successful President of Chile from March of 2006 till March of 2010, after which she was named head of UN Women by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. She is a pediatrician and epidemiologist who speaks Spanish, English, German, Portuguese, and French. Secretary of State Condi Rice represented the U. S. at her inauguration as President of Chile, and got a respectful but chilly reception. That was because Bachelet's father, who worked for the democratically elected President Salvador Allende,  was tortured to death by the infamous U. S.-backed Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew Allende in a bloody coup on September 11, 1973.
        Salvador Allende, shown above, fought to his death in his presidential palace using an engraved rifle that had been given him by his Cuban friends Celia Sanchez and Fidel Castro.
       Augusto Pinochet, shown above, ruled Chile for 19 very bloody years with strong support from the U. S. till waves of democracy began sweeping back over Latin America.
     Like her Pinochet-doomed father before her, Michelle Bachelet is Fidel Castro's dear friend and, as shown above, she has visited him more than once since his illness. All of which indicates that the Latin American trend of democratically elected female presidents might boost Fidel's soon-to-be legacy.
Photo courtesy: Enrique De La Osa/Reuters
      Update: The above photo shows Dilma Rousseff, the President of Latin American superpower Brazil, waving as she arrives in Havana today (Jan. 31-2012). The Reuters article written by Jeff Franks on Rousseff's arrival at Jose Marti Airport noted: "In her youth, Rousseff was a leftist guerrilla fighter inspired by Fidel Castro...in 1970, she was arrested, tortured and imprisoned for three years." In 1953 in Batista's Cuba Castro was arrested, tortured and imprisoned for two years. His emergence inspired Rousseff and a plethora of other revolutionaries who are now democratically elected leaders across Latin America relishing the break from past colonial (foreign) rule. Castro's legacy will not stand for democracy but it will burnish sovereignty. He succeeded in doing what all others, including the legendary Cuban Jose Marti, had died trying to do. Fidel's longevity and his legacy have and will also be forever embellished by such things as the terrorist attack on Cubana Flight 455 and the 600 or so failed assassination attempts against him.  As with Marti, Bolivar, etc. -- his legacy might supersede his life, especially if the U. S. continues to defy the world, including its best friends such as England, Canada, etc., with the long out-dated embargo that also punishes and dictates to all other countries around the world. But Brazil, Nicaragua, Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela, etc., have already had democratically elected Castro-disciples. The U. S. support of Batista created Castro; the U. S. support of the most radical exiles from the Batista dictatorship predicate his remarkable longevity and will also dictate the length and strength of his legacy. Personification of all that is today's arrival of Latin America's most powerful leader, a Castro disciple, at Jose Marti Airport in Havana (Jan. 31). She wants a capitalist Cuba and Brazil now has the power, wealth, and influence to make that happen in relatively short order, probably Chinese-style capitalism. China, also an increasingly big supporter of Cuba as a way to infuse more influence throughout Latin America, has recently become Brazil's top trading partner, replacing the U. S., which needs to, perhaps, devote more emphasis on the Americas as opposed to more faraway outposts. Rousseff is aware that the U. S. makes hay criticizing Cuba's dependence on Venezuela's financial support and that's why she wants to wean Cuba from that largess via such means as supporting the building of Cuban ports, increasing its sugar production, encouraging even more Chinese financing, and joining eight other nations in backing the island's promising search for oil.
      In fact, while she is in Cuba this week President Rousseff might do what these fisherman can do -- gaze out into the sea north of Havana and see through the misty haze the world's biggest and deepest-drilling oil platform probing the depths for Cuban oil. The 200-man platform known as "Scarabeo 9" is costing Spain's oil giant Repsol $514,000 (over half a million dollars) per-day just to rent, so many oil experts believe the findings will be huge, perhaps 20 million barrels of oil and 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The U. S. embargo, of course, prevents U. S. companies from participating although they were invited to do so before successful overtures were made to Spain, China, Brazil, Canada, Norway, Vietnam, Venezuela, etc. If Cuba becomes an oil exporter with deeper and refurbished ports to export it, capitalism might be expedited on the plush island, or so Brazilian President Rousseff believes.  Repsol is the world's best at deep-sea drilling and when the rig stopped off at Trinidad and Tobago U. S. experts inspected it and confirmed that it complied with all international and U. S. standards, much to the chagrin and consternation of the Cuban-American members of the U. S. Congress.
Teresa Bo
      And lastly, by the way and for what it's worth (and staying on topic with burgeoning female power in a machismo world), Fidel Castro considers Teresa Bo to be "the best Latin American television reporter." She is based in Buenos Aires and is seen regularly on top international networks, including Al Jazeera. She has recently reported from Havana but she has also traveled deep into the jungles of Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia to make award-winning "war on drugs" reports. Spain gave her two awards for her outstanding coverage of the war in Iraq and then presented her its prestigious Lara Prize for being "The Best International Journalist Under 30." A native Argentinean, Teresa Bo has a bachelor's degree in International Politics and a master's degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution.  And now she has a salute from Fidel Castro as "the best Latin American television reporter." Visitors to his home have noted that the only expensive item he seems to have is a very large television and it is well known that he is an insatiable news-hound, so his appraisal of Teresa Bo's work is interesting.  Also, as Cuban expert Ann Louise Bardach has noted, he has always been partial to "pretty blonds," so he might be a little biased in his critique.
Shasta Darlington
     Also adding a little insight into the Fidel Castro psyche that has vexed the world for all these decades is Shasta Darlington. Prior to discovering the blond Teresa Bo, Fidel's favorite television reporter was a brunette, Shasta Darlington. She joined CNN as its Havana-based producer-reporter in 2006 after impressive stints in Brazil, Los Angeles, Mexico City, etc. According to his son Alejandro, Fidel can get "a bit miffed" if he watches a male reporter on Al Jazeera, the BBC, CNN, or Miami stations air an unfavorable report on either him or the revolution. However, he "just smiles right through" even more critical reports aired by the likes of Teresa or Shasta. "One of Ms. Darlington's CNN reports," Alejandro remembers, "was on a windy day on a street in Havana. She really tore into both the present government and the revolution. I kept glancing around at Papa. He just smiled all the way through it, as if he enjoyed the presentation and ignored the content, which he understood perfectly. Now if that had been a man...well, he would have needed his third television in a year's time. I remember he destroyed two t-v sets half-way through male reports that weren't nearly as harsh as Shasta has sent around the world from Havana." To learn such facets of an historic life is to learn -- in this case, I believe -- how and perhaps why Fidel Castro separated Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria from all others in his revolutionary world and how and perhaps why he separates Teresa Bo and Shasta Darlington from male reporters in the media world that has always commanded so much of his attention, especially as he has aged. Feminine beauty and feminine mystique explains much of it, but not all. It is well known that he adored his mother Lina, a peasant maid, but did not like his father Angel, a wealthy farmer. In post-Castro Cuba he would like to envision females like Josefina Vidal in charge and females like Shasta Darlington reporting on windy days from the streets of Havana.  

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