August 4, 2006

Cubans love America but not US meddling

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cubans love most things American. They
play baseball with a passion and ride in vintage Dodges and
Buicks. But few on the island want the United States to
intervene in shaping their country's future.

With Fidel Castro convalescing in a hospital bed after
relinquishing power to his brother for the first time in his
47-year rule, President Bush has stepped up calls for
multiparty democracy in Cuba.

Anti-Castro exiles in Miami have called for a revolt
against the Castro government and free elections on the island
of 11 million. But in Cuba, many fear U.S. interference could
lead to violence and upheaval.

"We don't want the Americans involved here," said Ulises, a
student, drinking rum and cola before dawn on Thursday at an
all-night bar in Havana.

"This system has no future, but we do not want an abrupt
change, like in Iraq," said Ulises, who did not give his

Even Castro's critics who favor a gradual transition to
democracy and a free-market economy want to see change come
without U.S. interference.

Dissident Oswaldo Paya, who advocates peaceful change in
Cuba, considers increased Bush administration funding for
Castro's opponents on the island counterproductive.

"Cuba's future must be decided by Cubans," he said.


Most Cubans have relatives living in the United States, the
product of waves of emigration since Castro seized power in a
1959 revolution and built a one-party communist state 90 miles

from Florida.

Hoping to live the American Dream of consumer plenty and a
new car, many Cubans apply each day for U.S. visas to escape
economic hardship in post-Soviet Cuba.

Hundreds others brave the choppy waters of the Florida
Straits in smugglers' speedboats and precarious craft, even
vintage American cars ingeniously crafted into amphibious
vehicles. Some drown in the crossing.

But national pride takes over when it comes to Cuban
sovereignty and the history of U.S. control over the island
from the Spanish-American War to Castro's revolution, drummed
into Cubans from early school.

Castro reinforced Cuban nationalism with frequent charges
in his speeches that his enemies in Washington planned to annex
Cuba after eliminating him by invasion or assassination.

Handing over power to younger brother and Defense Minister
Raul Castro on Monday following major surgery for intestinal
bleeding, his statement said he was doing so due to the U.S.

Older Cubans still remember the 1962 Bay of Big's invasion,
when anti-Castro paramilitaries trained and armed by the CIA
landed in Cuba and were quickly routed. The threat prompted
Castro to declare his revolution socialist and embrace the
Soviet Union.

Not all Cubans believe a U.S. threat exists today.

"Cubans have nothing against Americans. It is all
politics," said a Havana bookstore salesman, offering well-worn
copies of Hemingway novels and books on Che Guevara.

"The government portrays them as bad," he said, calling the
threat of a U.S. invasion "folklore."

Ulises hopes for a post-Castro future that combines the
best of capitalism -- competition and efficiency -- with the
best of socialism -- free health care and education.

Dressed in blue jeans and sneakers sent to him by family in
Miami, he criticizes state inefficiency in Cuba.

"We need competition here. In any other country, this bar
would be private," he said. But he does not like the thought of
American capitalism taking over his country again.

"The casinos and brothels would be back," he said.