10 Things You Didn't Know About Raúl Castro

Raúl was the sixth of nine children and his brother Fidel is five years older.


Compiled by the U.S.News & World Report library staff

1. Raúl Modesto Castro Ruz was born on June 3, 1931, in Birán, a village in eastern Cuba. He was the sixth of nine children of Angel Castro Argiz, a landowner originally from Spain. Raúl's mother was not Castro's wife; she was a servant in the family's home. Raúl's brother Fidel is five years older.

2. Raúl and Fidel were sent away to attend school in Santiago de Cuba, but the brothers were kicked out for bad behavior. They went on to a Jesuit-run school, the Belen Academy. While Fidel became a good student there, Raúl did not. After failing classes, he soon left school and returned to the family estate. He later took some classes in administration at the University of Havana, but he never graduated. By reputation, he preferred drinking and gambling to studying.

3. Raúl became politically involved after attending a socialist youth meeting in Vienna in 1953. Fidel became a student activist while at the University of Havana. The brothers soon began taking part in violent protests against the regime of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. On July 26, 1953, they helped organize an attack on the military barracks at Moncada. The Castros were captured and spent two years in prison. After their release, they went to Mexico, where they continued planning Batista's overthrow. There, Raúl met Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara and introduced him to Fidel.

4. Raúl returned to Cuba with the other revolutionaries in 1956. Years of fighting culminated in Batista's 1959 overthrow. Fidel Castro then took power, stating that if he was killed, "behind me come others more radical than me," referring in part to his brother.

5. Raúl acted as an executioner during the revolution as well as after his brother took power. He was known for his ruthlessness and brutality. Years later, he suggested that his nickname should be "Raúl the Terrible" for his role in hundreds of killings. He even executed a close friend, Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, on orders from Fidel in 1989.

6. Four months after the Cuban Revolution, Raúl married Vilma Espín Guillois. Her background was very different from most of the rebel fighters: She was from a wealthy family, trained as an electrical engineer, and had studied at MIT. Vilma took on many of the ceremonial duties of the first lady of Cuba, since brother-in-law Fidel was divorced. She was also an official of the Cuban Communist Party and founder of the Federation for Cuban Women. Vilma and Raúl had four children and eight grandchildren. She died in June 2007 after a long illness.

7. Raúl was his brother's designated successor for 47 years. He headed the Cuban military during that time, becoming the longest-serving defense minister in the world. He was also vice president of the Council of State and second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party. In contrast to his brother, Raúl has generally preferred to work behind the scenes. In 1991, he joked with Cuban journalists that his relative obscurity had led to rumors of his death: "They were saying I was being kept in a freezer."

8. Raúl Castro worked closely with the Soviet Union during the first decades of his career. Without Fidel's knowledge, Raúl made Cuba's first official contact with that nation in 1959. He also negotiated with the Soviets to place missiles on the island, which led to military conflict with the United States and the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

9. Cuba relied heavily on the Soviet Union for financial support until that country broke up in 1991. Raúl managed Cuba's transition away from Soviet assistance, administering military cutbacks and placing generals in charge of key government functions like transportation and tourism. He was noted for his pragmatism, collaboration, and receptiveness to some economic reforms. Raúl is said to be an admirer of the Chinese economic model.

10. In 2006, Raúl took over the day-to-day leadership of Cuba after Fidel had abdominal surgery. Some analysts have suggested that Raúl Castro might be more open to working with the United States government than his brother was.