No sign of Castro brothers in Cuba power handover

Thursday August 3, 3:05 PM
No sign of Castro brothers in Cuba power handover

HAVANA (Reuters) - Nearly three days after Cuba's historic handover of power, neither ailing President Fidel Castro nor his brother Raul, to whom he temporarily ceded control, has been seen by an anxious Cuban public.

Close aide Ricardo Alarcon told a U.S. radio program on Wednesday that Castro, who had had a stomach operation, was "very alert" and resting after giving up power on the communist-ruled island for the first time in 47 years.

No photographs or television pictures of Castro, 79, have been released since his operation for intestinal bleeding and there was also no sign of defense minister Raul, 75, Castro's designated successor.

"We don't know what's going on. We're waiting for Raul to speak," said Vilma Gutierrez, a mother of three who works in a ramshackle state-owned shop selling subsidized potatoes and bananas. Her part of town saw riots in 1994 during the economic crisis set off by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A finger to her lips, she said: "People are keeping their mouths shut. They don't know what's going to happen."

There was a small increase in police presence in poorer parts of Havana and communist neighborhood organizations had activated "rapid response groups" used to put down riots.

Some Cubans with relatives in the security forces said military and other uniformed personnel had been mobilized in barracks and police stations as a precaution.

But Havana's sweltering streets, their stylish old buildings dilapidated from years of neglect, were quiet.

Castro, the world's longest-ruling head of government, gave Raul provisional powers as head of the armed forces, Communist Party and Council of State.


Fidel Castro was still lucid, Alarcon said.

"He's in, I would say, a normal period of recovery after an important surgery. That's essentially what I would say, but very alive and very alert," he told the Democracy Now! show.

A leading Cuban exile group in Miami called for military officials and civilians to establish a provisional government to "end the dictatorship of the Castro brothers."

"We are asking those in the military in Cuba to take hold of their own future to establish a provisional authority with the civil and military members of Cuba who do not want this succession of power," said Cuban American National Foundation Chairman Jorge Mas Santos.

Castro has not been seen in public since July 26 and the scant information about his condition has sparked rumors in the United States that he could be dead or running a "dress rehearsal" for his succession.

Raul, who commands loyalty in the army and police, is seen as competent, although some foreign analysts doubt he has the charisma to hold the system together.

The Bush administration, which says it will not relax its economic embargo on Cuba even if Raul takes over permanently, urged exiles not to try to cross the narrow straits from Florida and told Cubans on the island not to leave.

"This is not a time for people to try to be getting into the water and going either way," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Washington has maintained its Cuban embargo since 1962 and repeatedly tried to kill Castro, once with a poisoned cigar.

Kim Jong-il, the reclusive leader of communist North Korea, sent Castro a get-well note.

"I sincerely wish you a speedy recovery to your health so that you can excellently continue to carry out the Cuban revolution and the great mandate given to you by the people of Cuba," Kim said in a telegram to Castro dated Aug. 2.