Cuba's Number Two, Raul Castro, Turns 75

ByABC News
June 3, 2006, 7:59 PM

HAVANA, June 3, 2006 — -- President Fidel Castro's younger brother and the second most powerful man in Cuba, Defense Minister Raul Castro, turned 75 today.

The birthday was sure to increase anxiety among the country's 11.2 million inhabitants over the future, and to fuel expectations change will soon come to the Caribbean island among more than a million Cuban-Americans.

"Think about it: Raul turned 75 this weekend and Fidel will be 80 in August," said Frank Mora, an expert on the Cuban military at the National War College in Washington. "The significance, in terms of Cuba's future, when the two men who shaped it for nearly half a century are gone is obvious."

Since the earliest days of the 1959 revolution, Raul Castro has watched his brother's back as head of the armed forces and, since 1990, the security apparatus. But he has also been first vice president of the Council of State and second secretary of the Communist Party, and thus constitutionally in line to succeed Fidel Castro as president and leader of the only legal political party in the country.

Cuba's official media ran glowing stories and documentaries about Raul today, portraying him as a perfect revolutionary, patriot and father.

"When they die, I'm going to go hide under my bed," a Havana housewife said, expressing the sentiments of many here.

Some people begin to cry at the very mention of the Castro brothers' passing. Others insist they will defend the current system come what may, and still others say that more political and economic space should follow.

"If something happens to me tomorrow, the National Assembly will surely meet and elect him [Raul]," Fidel Castro told Ignacio Ramonet, the director of Le Monde Diplomatique, in an interview published as a book this year.

But then, Castro admitted his brother is getting on in years too.

"But already he is getting near my age and this problem [succession] is more generational," he said. "Now there are new generations [coming forward] because our generation is already passing."