Is North Korea Raul Castro’s Model?

Pedro Roig from the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies:

Is North Korea Raul Castro’s Model?

As Cuba faces a major socio-economic crisis, General Raul Castro tenaciously holds on to power; oblivious to the factual catastrophe of his Marxist revolution. In over six years of controlling the government, he keeps repeating that “the Communist party is the soul of the nation,” downplaying any expectations of a profound economic opening that could risk his privileged status. It is obvious that neither Raul nor any other Communist Party politburo member can fill the void left by Fidel’s charisma. They seem to be looking for a model to fit his leadership deficit. Could it be North Korea?

For all practical purpose, Fidel Castro is a political corpse already late for his funeral. But for 46 years of consummated showmanship, he was the ideological gospel of a decrepit dogma with an extraordinary ability to raise the people’s emotions to a fanatical level.

There have been some voices, friendly to the Castro regime, that have praised Raul’s style of government as pragmatic and committed to revive the collapsing economy by transferring part of the State’s enterprises to private hands and moving in the direction of the Chinese model. Yet, Raul has proved them wrong. After six years in power, Cuba resembles a prehistoric fossil, led by an incompetent, repressive and corrupt military oligarchy, buried in the past.

However, Cuba and the North Korean model are beginning to show striking similarities:

  • Both still praise the discredited communist utopia.
  • Both base their power on ferociously repressive forces.
  • Both severely punish dissent and criticism.
  • Both are unable to produce enough food for the people.
  • Both depend on foreign subsidies: North Korea on China, Cuba on Venezuela.
  • In both the leadership positions are vested within the ruling family.
  • Both ruling families belong to a privileged class, living in luxury, which they do not care to hide.

Raul Castro’s family has been photographed by the international media displaying expensive designer clothes and accessories. Recently in November 2012 Castro’s granddaughter, Vilma Rodriguez Castro, visited the art festival Pinta 2012 in Manhattan. She was seen wearing Chanel shoes, a Rolex and a Louis Vuitton purse. Also, the sons of Fidel and Raul are seen regularly as high roller customers in Cuba’s expensive, tourist discotheques. Raul himself sports expensive, custom made suits when he is not wearing his military uniform.

This taste for luxury is similarly exhibited by the extravagant North Korea ruling family. On July 2012, Ri Yong-ho, wife of Kim Jong-un, was spotted with a Christian Dior handbag and designer suit. Reports by those close to Kim Jong-il, previous ruler and father of Kim Jong-un, detail the dictator’s luxurious 16-car private train, stocked with all the amenities of a first class nightclub.

For the 82 year old Raul Castro, the North Korean model seems to have the security and comfort needed to gradually transfer power to his son Alejandro. A Colonel in the security forces, he is already being groomed for a leadership role. Other possible successor, General Alvaro Lopez Miera, Army Chief of Staff, has been raised through the military ranks very close to Raul’s family.

Is this process avoidable? Probably, but it will depend on the courage and determination of the younger generation. It is evident that such continuity is unwanted. The ravage of the revolution’s failure has reduced Cuba to ruins, despair and the ever present feeling of hopelessness. The Cuban people have not only lost their fundamental rights to be free from arbitrary power, free to dissent without fear of reprisal, and free to make moral choices, but have been condemned to live as slaves, begging for a raft or exit visa to escape the tragic island ruled by a brutal and corrupt military regime.


*Pedro Roig is senior Research Associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. Dr. Roig has taught Cuban history courses at various institutions. Former director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) – Radio & TV Marti. He holds a Masters of Arts degree from University of Miami and a Juris Doctor Degree from St. Thomas University. He has written several books including “The Death of a Dream: A History of Cuba” and “Marti: The Cuban Struggle for Freedom.” He is a veteran of the Brigade 2506.




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