Thursday, August 03, 2006

Cuba says communists in control no matter what

Cuba says communists in control no matter what

By Anthony Boadle - Thu Aug 3, 12:36 PM ET

Cuba's Communist Party on Thursday stressed it would stay in control no matter what happened to convalescent leader Fidel Castro, but failed to clear up doubts over who is in charge of the island.

In a typically cryptic message analysts said was designed to dispel fears of a disorderly transition of power, the main Communist newspaper Granma printed part of an old speech by Cuba's temporary leader, Castro's brother Raul.

In the speech, delivered on June 14 to army officers and first printed in Granma the following day, Raul Castro said, "Only the Communist Party .... can be the worthy heir of the trust Cubans have placed in their leader."

Fidel Castro, a notorious workaholic whose 80th birthday is August 13, temporarily handed over power as president and commander in chief to his brother on Monday after undergoing surgery to stop intestinal bleeding.

Raul Castro, Cuba's defense minister and regarded as competent but uncharismatic, has long been known to be his successor. He is 75 years old.

Castro's old enemy, the United States, says it believes the one-time guerrilla, the world's longest-serving head of government, is still alive.

Despite a surface calm on the streets of Havana, many Cubans had told foreign reporters they wanted Raul to show someone is in control by making a public appearance.

But analysts said the leadership probably considered that if Raul appeared too early, it might panic Cubans by confirming that Fidel's rule was over.

"If I were going to try to suggest to the Cuban people at the moment that what we have is tranquillity, absolute continuity and a large team more in place than ever, the last thing I would do is make a national broadcast as in a time of crisis," said Hal Klepak, professor of history at the Royal Military College of Canada and an author of book on Cuba's military.

Klepak, who is in Havana doing research, said he had seen Raul Castro drive by in a motorcade close to Revolution Square on Thursday and that pedestrians stopped to see him pass and drivers leaned out of cars to get a better look.

"Everyone broke out into applause, and even quite a few "Vivas!," said Klepak.


Fidel Castro, who took power in 1959 when he led his ragged revolutionaries into Havana and has resisted almost permanent pressure for his overthrow from the United States, released a message on Tuesday saying he did not know if he would recover.

While close aide Ricardo Alarcon told a U.S. radio program on Wednesday that Castro was "very alert" and resting earlier in the week, Cubans are still desperate for information.

"Why hasn't Raul come out and spoken? That's what is needed," said a Havana delivery man on Thursday, asking not to be identified. "There is a dreadful calm here."

Despite wild celebrations at the news of the handover of power among Cuban exiles in Miami across the Florida Straits, there has been no sign here of unrest or that communist rule could collapse in an Eastern-European-style uprising.

While Cubans' lives have gotten tougher since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the capital Havana is falling to bits, the Communist Party exercises control in all areas of life. There is a lot of grumbling, but Cubans are still proud of free health and education.

Since Monday, people have gone about their normal business although there has been a small increase in police presence in poorer parts of the capital and communist neighborhood organizations said "rapid response groups" used to put down riots in the past had been activated.

Dan Erikson, analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington, said Cubans might have to wait some more before they know for certain who their leader is going to be.

"Cuban leaders may be evaluating whether Fidel is ready to be seen publicly before allowing Raul to present a stronger image," he said.

"Even if Fidel's operation goes well, there is no such thing as minor surgery for an 80-year-old man, and his convalescence may take many months."

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