Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Castro succession takes shape in Cuba under brother

Castro succession takes shape in Cuba under brother
By Anthony Boadle
Tuesday, November 28, 2006; 10:59 AM

HAVANA (Reuters) - Whether or not ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro
reappears in public this week at his 80th birthday celebration, a
successor government led with stealth by his brother Raul appears to be
firmly in place.

For four months since the Cuban leader underwent emergency surgery and
turned over power temporarily, his designated heir and long-serving
defense minister has run the country with few speeches and less fanfare.

Ordinary Cubans have seen little of low-key Raul Castro other than
fleeting glimpses of his speeding motorcade of new BMWs.

Government sources say the acting president has been very active holding
dozens of meetings, strengthening the ruling Communist Party and getting
involved in areas of policy that were his brother's domain, such as the

Shocked by video footage of a frail Fidel Castro last month, many Cubans
now doubt the aging "comandante" struck by an undisclosed illness will
return to anything but a symbolic leadership role.

"It's utopian to believe Fidel will return to govern. You saw the
difficulty he had walking," said a University of Havana psychology
student who asked not to be named.

Their hopes for economic relief in the Western Hemisphere's only
Communist society are now pinned on Raul Castro, who in the past backed
reforms allowing private initiative to flourish.


Foreign analysts agree a thus-far smooth succession has begun, though
they are not certain where it will take Cuba.

"Raul is firmly in charge, but he has not shown his hand yet," said Hal
Klepak, a history professor at the Royal Military Institute of Canada
and author of a book on the Cuban military.

Fidel Castro is expected to make at least a brief appearance at a
military parade on Saturday marking the 50th anniversary of the day he
landed in eastern Cuba to start a guerrilla movement that seized power
in the 1959 revolution.

"It makes little difference if Fidel shows up or not. The succession has
begun," said an Asian diplomat in Havana.

"Many people got it wrong. They thought Cuba would fall apart. But
Cubans are not pushing for political change. They want more cheese and ham."

Raul Castro is widely believed to admire China's economic model of
capitalist growth under continued Communist rule, but he has not given
any indication that reform is on the way.

His first moves have been in the opposite direction, continuing a drive
against corruption that has landed managers of state companies in jail
and passing measures for stricter discipline in the work place.

Analysts say it is unlikely Raul Castro will introduce reforms while his
brother is still alive and able to veto them, and while he feels the
threat of U.S. destabilization is real.

"We cannot forget for one moment that we face a very powerful enemy that
is capable of resorting to any means to achieve its goal of wiping the
Revolution from the face of the Earth so that not a single trace is
left," he said in a September 27 speech to workers.

Soviet-era MiG fighters and tanks will take part in Saturday's parade,
the first in a decade in Havana's Revolution Square, to show Washington
that Cuba can still defend itself despite cutting the size of its armed
forces by 80 percent in recent years, Klepak said.

Analysts say the parade also will serve as a warning to Cubans, whose
loyalty to Raul Castro is not the same as for his brother and could
falter if he cannot improve their living standards.

The average Cuban makes just $15 a month and struggles to get by despite
receiving such things as food rations and free health care.

(Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes)

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