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After Fidel

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SCOTT JAGOW: Fidel Castro turns 80 this Sunday. He’s still recovering from intestinal surgery. His illness has fueled all kinds of speculation about what will happen in Cuba if Castro dies. His brother Raul has taken over for now. I spoke with Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst, who’s written a book about Cuba’s future.

BRIAN LATELL: I don’t think there will be too much change in the beginning. Raul will feel an obligation, a political necessity to continue honoring his brother’s legacy. But sometime later I expect that Raul will begin opening the economy especially at the grass roots level, allowing greater private initiative, entrepreneurship, greater foreign investment and that I think will be the beginning of some significant change.

JAGOW: Well considering how long this embargo has been going on, how patient do you think the US will be in that situation?

LATELL: I think the embargo is going to be a fact of life for at least another couple of years through the course of the current administration in Washington, but you know Fidel Castro has always wanted this kind of estrangement from the United States. It has always served his political purposes. I think all of that is going to change now because he’s no longer calling the shots. My hope is that the embargo will no longer be in effect two or three years from now.

JAGOW: Well Venezuela has been helping Cuba out quite a bit. Will the new Cuba even need the United States?

LATELL: Actually the Cuban economy today is probably doing better than it has in maybe the last 10 or 12 years. One of the main reasons for that is the very large influx or flow of Venezuelan subsidy. But we’re the biggest market, we’re the most logical market. Once Cuba starts producing goods again and services in a globally competitive fashion, we’re the logical market, just 90 miles from Cuban shores. I think Cuba will have a huge potential for producing ethanol from the sugar cane that historically grew so effectively and so efficiently. The potential for exporting large volumes of ethanol to the United States from sugar cane, I think that’s going to be very attractive.

JAGOW: How much of a concern is the possibility of a mass exodus out of Cuba once Fidel Castro dies?

LATELL: I think that’s one of the biggest concerns in Washington and Miami. Another mass migration would be tumultuous and terrible. It would have a horrible impact in the United States. Another mass migration would be very destabilizing for the successor regime. It could delegitimize Raul or the others in a future administration. It’s the worst-case scenario and it could easily happen again if for any reason law and order breaks down on the island in a way that the authorities could no longer control the movement of people on the island as they do so effectively. Then I think the odds are very, very high.

JAGOW: Brian thanks so much.

LATELL: Well, I thank you.

JAGOW: Brian Latell is the author of “After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro’s Regime and Cuba’s Next Leader.” In Los Angeles, I’m Scott Jagow. Thanks for tuning in and have a great weekend.

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