Raúl Castro may lack his brother Fidel’s charisma and iconic status but the 75-year-old is a pragmatist who already has a firm grip on the day-to-day affairs of the Communist party.

As head of Cuba’s military and security apparatus, he has long been the second most powerful man in the country, sharing the leadership with Fidel since the 1959 revolution.

“He needs to be taken very, very seriously,” Hal Klepak of the Royal Military College of Canada said recently. “He built and has presided over Cuba’s revolutionary armed forces for nearly half a century and has proved both his management and leadership skills in places like Angola, in defending the country and, perhaps most dramatically, deterring anyone from attacking.”

Frank Mora, an expert on the Cuban military at the National War College in Washington, agrees. “Raul is much respected within the military and very capable in his own right. Fidel would have fired him if he wasn’t.”

The youngest of the Castro brothers – Jesuit priests at the boys’ school told their father they were “the three biggest bullies” they had encountered – Raúl went on to become a committed socialist. After the failed 1953 coup against the dictator Fulgencio Batista, Raúl and Fidel were both jailed and exiled to Mexico.

It was there that Raúl met the young Ernesto “Ché” Guevara, whom he later introduced to Fidel.

Some security experts say Raúl might be Cuba’s best option for stability, a view not shared by the US. Though he is believed to be more open to economic reform than his brother, the US has made it clear it opposes “the repressive control of the Castro regime” and will support any Cubans who want to overthrow their government.

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