Monday, April 30, 2007

Castro's recovery viewed as setback for reform in Cuba

Castro's recovery viewed as setback for reform in Cuba
By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times | April 29, 2007

MIAMI -- Nine months after falling victim to an illness that many US
analysts assumed would prove fatal, Fidel Castro appears to have come
back from death's door to resume some leadership responsibilities and
rein in Cuba's would-be reformers.
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He's receiving visiting dignitaries, not just friends such as Colombian
writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez and President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela but
official delegations, including one led earlier this month by a senior
figure in the Chinese Communist Party, Wu Guanzheng.

Castro's name is again attached to editorials for Cuba's state-run
media, ones in which the US government is lambasted for freeing an
accused terrorist and Brazil is criticized for using food crops for
ethanol production when they could be feeding poor people.

And, to the alarm of veteran Cuba-watchers who sensed a new degree of
openness to economic change during Castro's absence, the apparently
reinvigorated revolutionary is now believed to be blocking moves to let
Cubans open small businesses.

US analysts of Cuban developments acknowledge they know little about
Castro's illness or the degree of his recuperation. His personal
secretary said he was suffering from intestinal bleeding when he handed
over power in the summer to his brother Raúl.

US intelligence sources have speculated he has cancer. But the Spanish
newspaper El Pais reported the most plausible version of his prolonged
medical attention, citing unidentified doctors familiar with Castro's
case. The newspaper said the Cuban president had undergone three
surgeries to remove infected intestinal tissue and became gravely ill
when the incisions failed to heal and the infection spread to his stomach.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales said he was sure Castro would resume
power during May Day celebrations in Havana, the private Unitel
television network reported yesterday. "I'm sure, my Cuban brothers,
that on May 1 comrade Fidel will return to governing," he said, adding
that he had not received any official word from Cuban authorities.

President Bush yesterday called Cuba's communist government, a "cruel
dictatorship," but he predicted that democratic change was near.

Bush said in a commencement speech at Miami Dade College in Florida that
many Cubans were dreaming of a better life. "Some of you still have
loved ones who live in Cuba and wait for the day when the light of
liberty will shine upon them again," the president said. "That day is

Since Raúl Castro, the defense minister and first vice president, took
over for his older brother July 31, state-authorized media exposés on
rampant corruption and the younger Castro's public criticism of
shortages in food, transportation, and housing have hinted at internal
review of Cuba's political and economic system, said Phil Peters, vice
president of the Lexington Institute near Washington and a veteran
analyst of Cuban affairs.

Raúl Castro has a reputation for pragmatism about private enterprise
within the state-run economy, having inaugurated many of the island's
most successful hard currency-earning joint ventures in tourism in the
early 1990s, when the country was reeling from the sudden cutoff of
Soviet aid.

During the fall, when Fidel Castro was too sick even to make an
appearance at the September summit of the Non-Aligned Movement or his
delayed 80th birthday celebrations in December, the government announced
a thorough review was under way to identify, and presumably correct,
flaws in the communist ideology guiding the country.

"Now it looks like cold water's getting poured over all that," Peters
said. "That, to me, is the clearest sign that Fidel Castro is getting
better and getting closer to coming back to office."

Hopes of an expansion in self-employment were buoyed in the fall when
Raúl Castro began speaking out in interviews and speeches about the
government's inability to properly provide for its 11.2 million citizens.

Those hopes were dashed, at least for the short term, this month when
Vice President Carlos Lage, architect of the early 1990s reforms,
parroted Fidel Castro's condemnation of "social distortions" in a speech
to a Communist youth group.

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