August 6, 2006

Cubans wonder if Castro will resume full power

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban President Fidel Castro was
recovering well from surgery on Sunday, officials said, but it
remained unclear whether he would ever be strong enough to
return to full power.

A week after the 79-year-old Castro's unprecedented
provisional handover of power to his younger brother Raul, his
exact whereabouts and condition remained a mystery to ordinary

Senior Cuban officials, seeking to allay suspicions that
long-time U.S. foe Castro had lost his grip on the island
nation he has dominated since his 1959 revolution, insisted in
brief statements that he was recovering from surgery for
internal bleeding.

But they said he may have to reduce his workload.

"Fidel is definitely out of intensive care and doing as
well as can be expected for his age, though no one knows
exactly where he is, what he has and if he will ever resume all
his activities," a mid-level Havana party member told Reuters.

"Everyone is breathing a little easier with the news,
though we all remain very concerned," a government official

Cuba watchers said it was significant that two top
officials who gave word on Castro's recovery after days of
speculation over whether he was even alive, Vice President
Carlos Lage and Health Minister Jose Ramon Balaguer, were
traveling abroad.

Had Castro taken a turn for the worse, they would have been
needed at home, they said.

In Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close ally
and economic backer of Cuba, said Castro was now able to leave
his bed and hold conversations.

"This morning I learned that he's doing well, that he's
already standing up out of bed, he's talking -- more than he
should, because he talks a lot," Chavez said during a
conversation with Bolivian President Evo Morales broadcast on
television. "He has sent us regards."

National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said Castro
came through the complicated surgery so well that a few hours
afterward "he was talking, he was making jokes."

"That's why I feel confident he will recover very soon," he
said, adding that Castro would have to slow down. He spoke
Saturday night on a radio station in Miami, home to 650,000
Cuban-Americans and the center of Castro opposition.


"I hope everything stays the same now that his brother Raul
is running the country," a medical student named Angelica said
as she built a sand castle on a packed beach a few miles west
of Havana. "Especially the free health care and education."

At Mass at Havana's colonial-era cathedral, Cardinal Jaime
Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana, asked for prayers for Castro
and asked God for guidance for those running the country "in
this moment of such importance."

Although ties between the church and state have been tense
since the early days of Castro's rule, Ortega has kept the
church out of politics and resisted calls from dissidents that
it adopt a more critical stance.

On the other side of the Florida Straits in Miami's Little
Havana the prayers of elderly Cuban exiles at the Saints Peter
and Paul Catholic Church reflected the divisions Castro's long
rule of Cuba has caused.

"We pray for liberty for Cuba," said usher Eugene Brito,
78, who came to the United States in 1961.

But he said he excluded Castro from his prayers. "He has
been such a criminal, killing people, putting people in prison.
The church asks us to pray even for our enemies. But I don't do

One of the most famed players on the world stage for
decades, the bearded revolutionary is admired by many in the
Third World as a fighter for social justice and vilified by his
critics, most notably the United States and exiles, as a tyrant
who has brought Cuba to the verge of economic ruin.

The Cuban government says the revolution will continue even
when Castro departs under the leadership of Raul, who is seen
as an efficient manager though he lacks Castro's charisma.

Cuba watchers see several possible scenarios, from an East
European style collapse, to reforms along the Chinese-style, to
power struggles within the armed forces and party.

"Whether Fidel Castro's condition is terminal or not,
Cuba's transition has begun," Alvaro Vargas Llosa, director of
the Center on Global Prosperity, wrote in the Washington Post.

"Nobody at this stage knows what kind of transition it will
be or how long it will take but the symbolism of Fidel Castro
handing over power to his brother is sufficient to tell us that
half-a-century of one-man rule of the island is over."