[R-G] Fidel Castro still a force, two years out of pow
fentona at shaw.ca
Thu Jul 31 09:41:30 MDT 2008
Fidel Castro still a force, two years out of power
July 30, 2008 at 11:09 AM EDT
HAVANA — The era of Fidel Castro appeared to be ending July 30, 2006,
when the ailing leader handed over power to his brother Raul Castro.
But two years later, he remains a force to be reckoned with in Cuba
and to some degree on the international scene.
Although he no longer rules the Caribbean island as he did for almost
50 years, the 81-year-old still has his brother's ear and is using a
newfound career as a newspaper columnist to make his views known.
Diplomatic cocktail gossip in Havana centres on whether he is using
his clout to hold back economic reforms favoured by his brother and
keep Cuba true to his vision of socialism, but the Castros say there
is no disagreement between them.
What is certain is that Fidel Castro has staged a remarkable comeback
after apparently being near death following emergency intestinal
surgery for an undisclosed ailment in July 2006.
He handed power provisionally to his brother and has not been seen in
public since, appearing only in occasional videos on state-run
In the earliest videos aired months after his surgery, Cubans were
shocked to see how frail and gaunt Mr. Castro was.
In February, he officially resigned as president, allowing the
National Assembly to formally elect Raul, 77, as his successor.
But instead of fading away, as many expected, Fidel Castro re-emerged.
In June, after five months out of the public eye, a more robust Mr.
Castro was shown in videos meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez and Chinese official He Guoqiang.
An avalanche of his columns followed on everything from the Cuban
Olympic baseball team to North and South Korea.
People who have met with him say his health has improved and his mind
He wrote in one column of a five-hour meeting with old friend, Nobel
Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who afterward told Cuban
news agency Prensa Latina that Mr. Castro spoke "of many topics, with
great profundity and lucidity."
Mr. Castro's comeback has been accompanied by speculation — not all of
it favourable — about his role in the government.
Raul Castro began his presidency with a flurry of reforms that
included allowing Cubans to buy cell phones and computers and use
previously off-limits tourist facilities, the lifting of wage limits
to encourage greater productivity and the decentralizing of
Agriculture reforms continued with the granting of additional land to
private farmers and co-operatives, but a broader opening of the state-
run economy that many expected has not occurred.
"I don't think Fidel likes the idea of it," said one Western diplomat
Others think his role is exaggerated.
"Fidel is not very much in the way, in my view," said Julia Sweig at
the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
"Maybe slowing things down a bit, but in his absence would be other
constraints and conditions acting as a damper on more rapid reforms."
Mr. Castro tends to describe his role in limited terms.
In his meeting with Mr. He from China, he was quoted by state-run
media as saying: "What do I do? I help in gathering news and data and
doing analysis about the most important international problems, which
I furnish to the leadership of the (Communist) Party and the state."
As the last major Cold War figure, Mr. Castro still has a global
audience, said Dan Erikson at the Inter-American Dialogue think-tank
"Fidel remains Cuba's most prominent international voice, even though
his tools of communication are now contained to the written word," he
How many in Cuba are still listening to the older Castro is uncertain,
but 19-year-old medical student Maybel, who asked not to be fully
identified, said she prefers Raul Castro because he talks less and is
"There are less speeches and Raul says bread is bread and wine is
wine," she said. But "we miss Fidel's style."
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