Thursday, November 30, 2006

Raul Castro called guardian of Cuban revolution

Raul Castro called "guardian" of Cuban revolution

Thu Nov 30, 10:27 AM ET

HAVANA (Reuters) - Acting president Raul Castro is the "guardian" of
Cuba's communist government in the absence of his brother
Fidel Castro and in the face of U.S. threats, a hard-line member of the
Cuban leadership said on Thursday.

"We recognize Raul as the steadfast guardian of the Cuban Revolution,"
Information Minister Ramiro Valdes, a former security chief, said in a
speech to 200,000 people at a military-civilian rally in the eastern
city of Santiago.

His words added to the growing perception among Cubans that their ailing
leader Fidel Castro, last seen in pictures on October 28 looking gaunt
and frail, may be too ill to resume governing.

Castro, 80, has not appeared in public since emergency intestinal
surgery forced him to hand over power temporarily to Raul, his
designated successor and long-serving defense minister in late July.

The once-fiery revolutionary failed to show up at his belated 80th
birthday celebrations this week, but officials have not ruled out a
brief appearance at a military parade on Saturday in Havana's main square.

Valdes, a veteran revolutionary who fought alongside the Castro brothers
in their guerrilla force that seized power in 1959, said the future of
Cuba depends on the unity of its people with the ruling Communist Party.

In the four months since Fidel Castro stepped aside, "all our people,
the Party, the Revolutionary Armed Forces, the Interior Ministry, the
revolutionary cadre, have grown stronger, should-to-shoulder with Raul,"
Valdes said.

Cuban institutions have continued to function efficiently despite the
"blockade" of U.S. sanctions, Valdes said.

"Never have we been so strong, so united, so alert," said Valdes, who
was reappointed minister in August.

"Yankee imperialists" are dreaming of political change that will not
happen, he said, in reference to increased pressures by the Bush
administration to undermine a Castro succession.

U.S. officials and Western diplomats in Havana suspect Castro has
terminal cancer. Cuban officials refuse to comment, saying his medical
condition is a state secret.

Cuba watchers say the transfer of power to Raul Castro is already a done
deal whether or not the elder Castro survives.

Raul Castro, a low-key leader compared to his charismatic brother, did
not attend the military ceremony in Santiago marking the 50th
anniversary of an armed revolt.

On Wednesday, Raul appeared in public for the first time in weeks to
present popular folk singer Silvio Rodriguez with a birthday gift, a
model of the yacht Granma on which the Castros and 80 rebels came ashore
in 1956 to start their revolution.

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