Close to Raúl Castro
Both of us have beautiful recollections of Raúl Castro: the chief, the leader, the friend, the human being, with whom we share affectionate bonds and decades of intense learning experiences.
Asela met Raúl during the liberation war when she was assigned the organization of the educational sector of the Second Front Frank País under his command. Fernández met him, when Raúl arrived to Havana from Santiago de Cuba, at the beginning of 1959. We met and had a long conversation. By January 1959, Raúl was director of Cadet School, and of other military training centers. He was also head of directors of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), before becoming Vice Minister.
On that first meeting, Raúl asked my age. When told that I was 36, he said: “ Que viejo tu estás” (“You are very old”) Then, many years later, when he turned that age, I visited his office and after the formal greetings I repeated the same words to him. Raúl laughed in his distinctive full, heartfelt manner and admitted that the subject of age is very relative and depends on the age we have. I tell this anecdote because Raúl has told it on numerous occasions to many people, and again in writing when one of the authors turned 80.
Other than a collection of memories, this is a testimony written by two people who wish to offer an insightful view of our personal contacts with Raúl, or in other words, to give a modest and honest vision of Raúl, from the perspective of our personal experience.
Raúl is an excellent compatriot and educator, highly organized, systematic and serious. He is a strong opponent of injustice, whose attitude is exemplary, and who knows well when to criticize or encourage.
As a father, Raúl is very involved with the well-being and the education of his children. He is very Cuban, affable, courteous, funny, a person with profound humanitarian qualities and an easygoing personality.
We will elaborate on these qualities later.
Raul´s talent to lead was shaped during the revolutionary struggle. Once, when referring to Fidel he expressed his ideal of a good leader when describing the merits and virtues of our Commander-in-Chief and that Engels identified with a good military leader, namely: total identification with the people´s needs, solid military knowledge, very cultured and a professional education that includes a political and ideological background. A good leader will also be modest and humble when treating others and able to clearly formulate and express his ideas. These qualities that Raúl learned from Fidel are not solely the result of his learning capabilities; Raúl is innately a leader.
Raul is systematic in his work as director. He pays close attention to all the details involved in a decision, as well as the time and steps needed in order to complete it. He teaches his subordinates how important follow-up and constancy are since without them an assignment will lose momentum even if it was well conceived.
We recall when in the early years of the revolution he created the military vocational schools Camilo Cienfuegos to prepare the candidates for the Cadet School whose graduates then become officials of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. Raul followed step by step every detail of that project until it became a dream come true; schools whose students were called Camilitos. He supervised the process of selecting students and teachers, the construction of the buildings in each province, the uniform design and the provision of the supplies needed by the students. He insisted that the regulations needed to be conceived carefully keeping in mind the objective of motivating teenagers in their vocation as future army officials.
Raul´s constancy and the clarity of his idea are ratified by those of us who saw the birth and development of the project and when, for decades, thousand of young Camilitos continued studying in Cadet School. Today, we can proudly say that in our Revolutionary Armed Forces we have brigadiers, lieutenant colonels, sergeant majors and officers that graduated from the Camilitos.
Another of Raúl's achievements is his effort to improve the military service that prepares thousands of Cuban youths to defend the country and to become committed citizens. His idea known as Orden 18, allows these young trainees to enroll in the university once they finish their military training. He is involved with the difficult process of reorganization and hiring in the FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces) and with increasing its efficiency and economizing. In addition, he is constantly concerned with the people’s preparedness for war (la guerra de todo el pueblo) and about raising the revolutionary spirit and the political consciousness of thousands of fellow citizens.
Raúl is a revolutionary man whose role in history has required the making of big decisions. He is wise and insightful. He analyses all the elements and plans carefully all the steps in a given process. One learns from Raúl to avoid unilateral analysis and to use a multilateral approach to problem solving. At the same time, he adamantly expects that the work be completed according to a high standard of quality.
Raúl demonstrates having a high standard of ethics and provides an outstanding example of conduct. We must take into account that the Revolutionary Armed Forces, under his command, has formed the leaders of our Party, our Government and State and has served as an example of organization, austerity and of good management and control of resources to other ministries.
Either when directing the military or in his governmental responsibilities he emphasizes the significance of the use of a broad approach when setting and implementing goals efficiently. Modest and strict, Raúl teaches about the value of brainstorming collectively, of teamwork, unanimity and cooperative spirit. He criticizes vanity, arrogance, lack of imagination, selfishness or any other negative trait that go against our socialist moral. Several generations of officials and party members have been formed under these guidelines.
Other lessons to be learned from our leader Raúl are about the importance of making prompt and proper decisions. He encourages to foresee, think profoundly and to be decisive… These are essential skills to have for the political scene and during combat where swift decisions and the sharp study of the enemy can keep us from being trapped. He demands of the officers to remain well informed so as to always be ready to make proper and opportune decisions… Intelligence, celerity and decisiveness are qualities that Raúl teaches to synchronize in theory as well as in practice.
An important aspect of Raúl´s work as the Minister of FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces) is his constant effort to make the subordinates conscious of the cost of each mission and the importance of economizing. It is not a recent concern, for 47 years he has been insisting on this matter.
We recall, on the early years of combat training, his demands and questions: How much does each projectile costs? How much does it costs to train an officer? How much fuel is used to transport the troops? How much does this operation cost? The minister did not permitted that the officers ignored the cost of a mission, an exercise, a mobilization and demanded that very big efforts be made in the use of cost-efficient methods or alternatives.
He wanted to know the cost of each training material, of expendable supplies and the cost of training. He encouraged each of us to become responsive of the need to save the costly resources that the people with huge sacrifices were producing to defend the country, since the survival of the Revolution was a matter of life or death. He always reminded us how throughout history, the revolutionary movements who ignored these lessons payed dearly with their lives and the survival of their revolutions.
Raúl is also our Vice-President. As such, he has acted with transparency, with high ethics and with regard to his duties as Second Secretary, Minister and Vice-President.
Raúl is in charge of very diverse governmental responsibilities. However, in his work, he always outlines and maintains the principles set by Fidel to our combatants since the beginning of the revolutionary struggle. Inspite of the complexity and involvedness of his responsibilities as second in command he personally displays the attitudes expected to be present in our militants, our officers, and all the good revolutionaries. 43 years ago, in a masterly speech at a ceremony for the foundation of the Party held in the Pico Turquino he said that membership in the Party does not grant any special privilege. Raúl added that no one must think that because they are militants of the ruling party, people must obey what they say, that what earns the respect of the Cuban people and their organizations is the good work and deeds of a militant.
In that speech, Raúl, as a real educator, emphasized that the stature of an authentic revolutionary is not earned by virtue only of his membership on the Party. The prestige, he said, is built by means of dutiful efforts, positive attitudes and a disposition for sacrifice (not just a one time sacrifice during combat) but the constant and selfless sacrifice that is required every single day, every single minute.
Another idea conveyed by his wisdom is that a good revolutionary must be willing to continually study and learn from the lessons and experiences brought forth by life and must have a creative and energetic attitude when dealing with problems.
Raúl has explained the role of the vanguard in its ongoing mission of enlisting more people to join the patriotic struggle. He has witnessed the birth of a revolution brought forward by a few men and sees how today it has the support of the Cuban people. He reminds us that at the initial stages of the struggle, Fidel was confident, even when only a few warriors were like a candle in the middle of a storm and how the flame became a burning torch extending and reaching beyond.
Raul believes on the benefits of pointing out the problems in a sincere and brave manner in order to encourage an honest debate and thus be able to attain a positive and productive solution and eradicate the deficiencies.
Throughout the years, to each group of politicians and military officers, Raúl has frequently explained that when a person considers that there is no place to go to complain, ask a question, or express their worries, they tend to talk in the wrong place and with the wrong people. Furthermore, he says that this can be solved by creating a setting where everyone can go to voice their concerns. For Raúl, the best outcome is to educate others and ourselves in how to express our opinions observing the rules of time, place and correctness.
… Or as he says: in the right place, at the precise time and in a proper way.
Raúl knows our history by heart and considers it as a great source of reference for rousing patriotic values. Since the people took power he regarded the patriotic commemorations as great opportunities to introduce revolutionary concepts. He believes that patriotic dates must serve as reminders, lessons and examples of courage and hope. Raúl encourages the people to celebrate the national and international patriotic holidays focusing in their political and ideological significance, to refrain from formalism and sensationalism and to concretely honor the heroes and martyrs.
The nucleus of his educative program lays in the concept inherited from our political traditions and the doctrine delineated by our Commander- in- Chief that our principles are not negotiable no matter how adverse the situation is.
Raúl´s ideas about internationalism are consequential with Martí´s doctrine that “Patria es humanidad “(the homeland is the human race) He states that the boundaries of a country are wide and that we must be willing to help any country in the world that summons us” he adds “this is the spirit we need to build in the youth”.
Raúl has explained the role of our Party in procuring the continuation of our revolution. Thirty-three years ago, in a concluding statement, when meditating upon the structure of the Central Committee and envisioning the future he said:
"For the leaders of the revolution, time is running short and their lives are nearing the end. With our work and with your help, we are preparing the great leaders of the revolution of today and tomorrow and that will be forever the Communist Party."
From his job as director of the MINFAR (Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces), Raúl knows well about the price of victory and what it will mean to be defeated. Thus with a resolute determination he educates the officials with the convictions of our Commander-in-Chief that victories can be won before the battles and that a good method to avoid war is to be well prepared. These are the ideas supporting Raúl's notion that combat training and political education are integrated concepts. During masterly interventions, Raúl has explained that it’s precisely the integration of political unity- military readiness of the Cuban revolutionary what makes the enemy think twice about invading our country. One of Raúl´s strategy as minister, but above all, as a political educator, and being entrusted with the organization of the defense, is to build the commitment for the need to work towards victory from ideological and stone trenches.
No one doubts of the enormous amount of time that the duties of the revolution and our Commander-in-Chief demand on him. However, Raúl always finds time to spend with his family and get involved with the on-going education of his offspring, which as adults are very responsible workers, modest and have great humanitarian qualities.
Raúl and Vilma raised their children in harmony with their values and their exemplary lives. It´s impossible to talk about Raúls family without mentioning Vilma: herself an important figure in the history of the revolution. Vilma, admired and loved by Raúl was a clandestine fighter and an insurgent during the November 30th uprising. She was a rebel in the Sierra Maestra and since 1959 the leader of the women rights and equality movement.
With an unquestionable moral authority, the Second Secretary of our Party has always emphasized the vital role of the family in educating the youth. Raúl has always offered advice and suggestions to the parents about the importance of their children pursuing an education, but most of all, as an accomplished father, Raúl has lead with his example.
Trusting the youth
Raul's life experiences, his understanding of human beings, his revolutionary convictions and his endless trust in the young generation endows him of sympathy for their needs. Also, he is opposed to methods that are not concurrent with the stages of development of the revolution, or with life current circumstances. He admits that today’s youngsters are less conforming and more demanding because they are wiser, better educated, more cultured and above all more decisive, and that these are good symptoms. He points the error of approaching them by using schematic and rigid methods or by using unsubstantiated arguments. In his opinion, to be able to engage young minds, to win their hearts, to strenghten their political and ideological beliefs, to get their attention and to motivate them, the outline of the political plan has to gain is scope and be strict but most of all modern.
Raúl is certain that each generation has their own ideals and motivations and recognizes that by only listening to the stories about the cruelty endured by their forefathers a revolutionary cannot be formed. Evoking those stories is important for the youth but it is also necessary to provide them with guidance about what they need to do today and in the future. Raúl believes that the young generation must play the leading role in their progress and enthusiastically engage in the process of setting new goals for the revolution and guiding it to new heights. The young inherit their parent’s experiences but adding their own creativity and their commitment to continue the work of the revolution.
Raúl has a strong unwavering personality; he is insightful, easygoing, with a farsighted intelligence. His ideas about culture, his political experiences and Fidel's teachings all combine to formulate his thoughts about the need to solve Cuba’s evils, in the second half of the 20th century, with a social revolution feasible only through armed struggle and the accessibility of education and culture for every one.
Capitalist propaganda –the sophisticated lying machine that distorts so well the truth that even Goebbel will be envious– have tried to portrait Raúl as a radical, bad-tempered, devoid of sense of humor and tactless. They intentionally distort his image because they discern well what Raúl means to the revolution, to our people, and to the country's destiny. Of course, we know who runs the media and who pays to get the 'information' propagated.