August 3, 2006

Cuba says communists in control no matter what

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's Communist Party on Thursday
stressed it would stay in control no matter what happened to
convalescent leader Fidel Castro, but failed to clear up doubts
over who is in charge of the island.

In a typically cryptic message analysts said was designed
to dispel fears of a disorderly transition of power, the main
Communist newspaper Granma printed part of an old speech by
Cuba's temporary leader, Castro's brother Raul.

In the speech, delivered on June 14 to army officers and
first printed in Granma the following day, Raul Castro said,
"Only the Communist Party .... can be the worthy heir of the
trust Cubans have placed in their leader."

Fidel Castro, a notorious workaholic whose 80th birthday is
August 13, temporarily handed over power as president and
commander in chief to his brother on Monday after undergoing
surgery to stop intestinal bleeding.

Raul Castro, Cuba's defense minister and regarded as
competent but uncharismatic, has long been known to be his
successor. He is 75 years old.

Castro's old enemy, the United States, says it believes the
one-time guerrilla, the world's longest-serving head of
government, is still alive.

Despite a surface calm on the streets of Havana, many
Cubans had told foreign reporters they wanted Raul to show
someone is in control by making a public appearance.

But analysts said the leadership probably considered that
if Raul appeared too early, it might panic Cubans by confirming
that Fidel's rule was over.

"If I were going to try to suggest to the Cuban people at
the moment that what we have is tranquillity, absolute
continuity and a large team more in place than ever, the last
thing I would do is make a national broadcast as in a time of
crisis," said Hal Klepak, professor of history at the Royal
Military College of Canada and an author of book on Cuba's

Klepak, who is in Havana doing research, said he had seen
Raul Castro drive by in a motorcade close to Revolution Square
on Thursday and that pedestrians stopped to see him pass and
drivers leaned out of cars to get a better look.

"Everyone broke out into applause, and even quite a few
"Vivas!," said Klepak.


Fidel Castro, who took power in 1959 when he led his ragged
revolutionaries into Havana and has resisted almost permanent
pressure for his overthrow from the United States, released a
message on Tuesday saying he did not know if he would recover.

While close aide Ricardo Alarcon told a U.S. radio program
on Wednesday that Castro was "very alert" and resting earlier
in the week, Cubans are still desperate for information.

"Why hasn't Raul come out and spoken? That's what is
needed," said a Havana delivery man on Thursday, asking not to
be identified. "There is a dreadful calm here."

Despite wild celebrations at the news of the handover of
power among Cuban exiles in Miami across the Florida Straits,
there has been no sign here of unrest or that communist rule
could collapse in an Eastern-European-style uprising.

While Cubans' lives have gotten tougher since the collapse
of the Soviet Union and the capital Havana is falling to bits,
the Communist Party exercises control in all areas of life.
There is a lot of grumbling, but Cubans are still proud of free
health and education.

Since Monday, people have gone about their normal business
although there has been a small increase in police presence in
poorer parts of the capital and communist neighborhood
organizations said "rapid response groups" used to put down
riots in the past had been activated.

Dan Erikson, analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue think
tank in Washington, said Cubans might have to wait some more
before they know for certain who their leader is going to be.

"Cuban leaders may be evaluating whether Fidel is ready to
be seen publicly before allowing Raul to present a stronger
image," he said.

"Even if Fidel's operation goes well, there is no such
thing as minor surgery for an 80-year-old man, and his
convalescence may take many months."