Cuban President Raul Castro’s son, Colonel Alejandro Castro Espin, was Cuba’s official envoy for the secret negotiation process with the U.S. that led to the two countries’ bilateral relations in 2014, Cardinal Jamie Ortega has revealed.
Cuba watchers have long speculated that Castro Espin, 51, headed the secret meetings, but the confirmation by Ortega, who recently stepped down as archbishop of the Cuban Church, is the most official one to date.
Ortega published the information in an article that appeared in the Catholic Church magazine Espacio Laical. In the text, he details the steps that led to the agreements between former U.S. President Barack Obama and Castro, with the mediation of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church.
Ortega mentions Castro Espin as the head of the delegation for Cuba in the secret talks that were held in 2013 and 2014. Ricardo Zúñiga, a top White House adviser and principle director for Western Hemisphere Affairs during the Obama administration, was his U.S. counterpart.
Castro Espin’s involvement reportedly began at the historic meeting held by Castro and Obama during the Summit of the Americas in Panama in 2015, where he served as head of Cuba’s National Commission for Security and Defense.
Ortega was the Vatican’s emissary at the talks, which Pope Francis played a key role in brokering. The negotiations led to the rapprochement in 2014 after over 50 years of Cold War hostility.
“Not only did I have the extraordinary possibility of being a bearer of a letter from the Pope to each of the presidents, but also of knowing and transmitting to each of them the oral message that the other sent,” wrote Ortega. “For me this was one of the great moments of my priestly life; Because I was able to see that dialogue and rapprochement are always possible, and that is what my Christian faith always inspired in my ministry as Pastor.”
Castro Espin, who is an international relations expert, is Castro’s only son. He has kept a low profile for many years. The confirmation of his role in the talks by Ortega has further boosted his profile and some Cuba observers believe he could be a future president of island.
He is expected to be a major player in the power transition in February next year when Castro steps down. Even though Miguel Diaz-Canel, 56, is believed to be Castro’s heir apparent, Castro Espin is viewed by some as a president-in-waiting.
Ortega also revealed that the date of the rapprochement announcement—December 17—had nothing to do with the celebration of St. Lazarus Day or any other political reason, as many thought. It was chosen because it is Pope Francis’ birthday.