Thursday, August 03, 2006

Raul Castro stays out of sight in Cuba

Raul Castro stays out of sight in Cuba

By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer = Thu Aug 3, 10:37 AM ET

Raul Castro has spent his entire life in the shadow of his older brother Fidel. As Cuba's acting president, he continues to be on the sidelines. The focus remained entirely on Fidel Castro Thursday as Cuba's state-run media ran messages wishing a swift recovery after surgery for intestinal bleeding to the only ruler most Cubans have ever known.

"Certain of your rapid recovery, always toward victory!" a graduating class of Interior Ministry cadets said in a collective greeting to Castro on the front page of the Communist youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

But Castro's illness has left many Cubans uneasy.

"I, at least, am worried, because without him we are nothing," gardener Rafael Reyes said. "We hope that he will recover and leave (the hospital) soon."

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il sent a message to Castro wishing him a speedy recovery, North Korea's state media reported.

"I extend deep sympathy and comfort to you after learning the surprising news that you received surgery for a sudden disease," Kim said in the message, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. "I sincerely hope that you will recover (at) an early date and continue to carry out the Cuban revolution and significant duties bestowed to you by the people."

Three days after he was granted temporary control of the country, Raul Castro — the brother Fidel reportedly trusts more than anyone — still was nowhere to be seen. It was unclear why.

The elder Castro also made no appearances, though his inner circle issued a statement purportedly from the leader late Tuesday saying he was in good spirits and beginning his recovery. His sister Juanita Castro, who lives in Miami and has been estranged from him since 1963, told CNN she had spoken with people in Havana who told her that her brother was released from intensive care Wednesday morning.

"He's not dead," she said, addressing rumors and speculation in South Florida that her brother had died. "He's very sick, but he's not dead."

Cuban Parliament Speaker Ricardo Alarcon told the New York-based independent radio show Democracy Now! that Castro was "very alive and very alert" when the men spoke Tuesday, and that Castro was clearly in charge, delegating specific tasks to his brother and six other high-ranking officials.

There was no other new information on Castro's health. The daily current events show on state television, replayed late Wednesday, focused on martial arts and synchronized swimming.

People in Havana continued to go about their daily business. Even so, there appeared to be an increase in police patrols in some working-class neighborhoods and in coastal areas that have seen civil disturbances in the past, such as during running power blackouts in the summer of 2005.

The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the government's neighborhood watch groups, stepped up volunteer night patrols. Rapid Action Brigades, pro-government civilian groups used in the past to handle civil disturbances, were placed on standby.

In Washington, Republican senators began drafting legislation to implement a plan by the Bush administration to give $80 million over two years to Cuban dissidents fighting for democratic change. Prominent Cuban dissidents have been wary of such aid, saying it would only endanger them and their cause.

Sen. Robert Bennett (news, bio, voting record), R-Utah, said Bush told him the administration was caught off-guard by Castro's illness. "I think all of us can say we had no idea this was coming," he said.

He didn't elaborate, but the remarks may speak to the scanty reliable intelligence the U.S. has on its Cold War foe just 90 miles from Florida.

Cmdr. Jeff Carter of the U.S. Coast Guard, which patrols the water between Cuba and Florida, said there was no sign that Cubans were preparing to make the dangerous crossing in either direction.

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