By WILL WEISSERT | Associated Press
2:43 PM EST, January 30, 2008
HAVANA - Acting President Raul Castro -- not his older brother Fidel --
was the top vote-getter in Cuban parliamentary elections, according to
official results Wednesday.
Bespectacled, camera shy and far less charismatic than Cuba's ailing
long-time leader, the 76-year-old Raul received 99.4 percent of votes
cast in the family's base of Santiago in eastern Cuba _ a percentage
point more than Fidel got.
Both brothers easily won re-election to the rubber-stamp legislature
known as the National Assembly of Popular Power, as did all of the 614
candidates presented to the island's 8.4 million voters on Jan. 20.
The unopposed candidates needed to get at least half the votes cast in
their districts and none came close to losing.
The lowest figure _ 73 percent _ went to Barbaro Osmani Lago, from the
western province of Pinar del Rio.
Officials said that 95 percent of eligible voters went to the polls,
though about 4.5 percent of those turned in blank or invalid ballots.
While voting is not mandatory, failing to do so can draw unwanted
attention from pro-government neighborhood watch organizations.
There was only one choice for each office and organized campaigning was
forbidden. While membership in the Communist Party was not required,
only party loyalists achieve leadership positions.
While far less prominent globally than his brother, Raul has long been
popular in eastern Cuba, playing up his rural roots and down-home sense
of humor. Some Cubans consider him more pragmatic than his visionary
Raul, who is also defense minister, bested his brother in the 2005
parliamentary vote too, getting 99.75 percent compared to Fidel's 99.01.
The younger Castro has been governing Cuba since his brother underwent
emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006 and provisionally ceded power.
Despite his illness, the elder Castro remains head of the Council of
State, Cuba's supreme governing body. The new parliament convenes Feb.
24 and will choose a new council from its members. Fidel has not said
whether he wants to remain head of state or retire.
In an essay published Wednesday, the elder Castro said that U.S.
President George W. Bush reached a low point in ``demagoguery, lies and
total lack of ethics'' in Monday's State of the Union address.
``For a population that knows how to read, write and think, nobody can
offer a more elegant criticism of the empire than Bush himself,'' Castro
wrote, using a term Cuban officials often use for the United States.
Castro wrote that the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan ``was the same thing
that the U.S.S.R wanted to do, occupy the country with its powerful
armed forces that were ultimately defeated when they ran into its
customs, religion and cultural differences.''
He also said Bush used the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as an excuse to
invade Iraq, and that ``no one in the world doubts the objective was to
occupy (Iraq's) oil installations and has cost that country's people
hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions displaced from their homes.''