Close behind Castro, his radical brother

Published August 2, 2006

HAVANA - Cuban Defense Minister Raul Castro is President Fidel Castro's staunchly loyal younger brother and his designated successor. At 75, five years younger than Fidel, Raul is far less charismatic than his brother though far more radical.

As first vice president of the Council of State, Cuba's supreme governing body, Raul is legally designated to assume his brother's role as president of the council in the event of "absence, illness or death."

Three weeks after taking power in January 1959, Castro named Raul his successor, telling supporters: "Behind me are others more radical than I."

He officially designated Raul as his successor at a Communist Party congress in October 1997, saying "Raul is younger than I, more energetic than I. He can count on much more time."

As head of Cuba's armed forces, Raul was deeply involved in Cuba's military involvement in Angola and Ethiopia during the 1970s.

In one rare interview in early 2001, Raul spoke with unusual frankness about his older brother's death and encouraged the United States to make peace with Cuba while Fidel was alive.

"I am among those who believe that it would be in imperialism's interest to try, with our irreconcilable differences, to normalize relations as much as possible during Fidel's life," Raul said in the interview with state television.

Raul, a political hard-liner, belonged to a communist youth group before the revolution. The elder Castro didn't publicly embrace socialism until 1961.

But on the economic front, he showed signs of flexibility. As defense minister, Raul has overseen some of Cuba's most important experiments with limited market-style reforms. He also expressed interest in China's version of free-enterprise socialism during a November 1997 visit.

He is married to Vilma Espin, who fought alongside him. They have four children. The fourth of seven children, he attended Roman Catholic schools and studied administration at the University of Havana.