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Is Fidel Castro still in control?

Posted on Sunday, 12.14.08

CUBA
Is Fidel Castro still in control?
According to a Cuban official, Fidel Castro has been playing a larger
role in the Cuban government than has been apparent.
BY WILFREDO CANCIO ISLA
El Nuevo Herald

Although Raúl Castro was declared the new Cuban leader in February,
Fidel Castro may not have stepped down completely.

Fidel was supposed to remain as a consultant on matters of national
defense, foreign policy and the island's economy. But according to
reports by a Cuban government official who asked to remain anonymous,
Fidel has retained a great deal more control than what has been apparent.

''Fidel Castro is once again in command, like in the best of times,''
said the Cuban official. “He often picks up the telephone to control a
meeting or find out about a discussion at the Council of Ministers.''

Fidel has been increasingly assuming responsibility for governmental
policies and actions; meeting with visiting dignitaries, and being
consulted on a variety of matters.

Upon arriving in Caracas Saturday, during his first visit abroad as
Cuba's leader, Raúl Castro showed deference to his older brother,
telling Venezuelans that he had brought “regards from the leader of the
revolution.''

The first public evidence of Fidel's return to decisionmaking in Cuba
came in late April, following the dismissal of Education Minister Luis
Ignácio Gómez. Two days after the official statement confirming the
minister's ouster, it was Fidel Castro who explained the situation in
one of his published “reflections.''

''In this special and important case, besides my personal appreciations,
I was consulted and fully informed,'' wrote Castro at the time. “I
assume, therefore, the full responsibility for this decision, whatever
the reactions and consequences.''

In that particular article, Castro said he had also played a role in
naming the Council of State, now headed by generals Leopoldo Cintra
Frías and Alvaro López Miera.

It is also rumored in Cuba that the sudden dismissal of Marta Lomas as
Minister of Foreign Investments and Economic Assistance (MIECE) occurred
following remarks she made about the election of Barack Obama that Fidel
Castro did not agree with.

Lomas was replaced just two days after having made positive remarks in
public about President-elect Obama that were picked up by international
media outlets. According to officials from the Ministry of Foreign
Commerce, Castro was enraged when he found out that Lomas remarks were
being touted by news sources as the first official reaction from the
Cuban Government to the U.S. elections.

According to a Cuban government official, “What we have heard is that
the Commandant was upset by that, and asked who had authorized her
[Lomas] to speak for the government.''

Three days following this incident, Castro himself wrote about the U.S.
elections in a letter to the G-20 meeting in Washington, stating, “Many
dream that with a simple change of command of the empire, it will become
more tolerant and less warlike … The most intimate thoughts of the
citizen that will take the helm of the matter are unknown yet. It would
be supremely naive to believe that the good intentions of an intelligent
person can change what has been created through centuries of interests
and greed.''

Castro gave further evidence of his return to power in the wake of
hurricanes Gustav and Ike that devastated the island's economy.

It was Fidel Castro that made the first official statements following
the cyclones, by describing the disasters and outlining the paths to
recovery in his printed columns. From Aug. 31 to Sept. 16, Castro
published a total of four columns about the debacles unleashed by Gustav
and Ike, plus a letter sent to a television program, outlining the
strategies that have since been implemented.

Raúl Castro made his first public appearance 17 days after the passage
of hurricane Gustav.

''The impression left by this crisis is that Fidel Castro was making the
main decisions,'' observed Philip Peters, vice president of the
Lexington Institute and a congressional advisor for Cuban affairs;
adding, “While Raúl Castro kept a low profile, it was Fidel Castro that
made comments and evaluations almost daily about the hurricanes.''

Raúl Castro gave further evidence of his brother's continued leadership,
announcing after the hurricanes that Fidel's plan to create 80 brigades
of workers to rebuild the damaged areas would be put into practice.

Fidel Castro's authority was also manifest in the rejections of the
humanitarian assistance offered to Cuba by Washington. The U.S. offered
to provide Cuba with contributions of $5 and $6.3 million to cover
recovery expenses, but was turned down twice by the regime in Havana.

The Deputy Secretary for Hemispheric Affairs, Thomas Shannon, personally
delivered the U.S. offer to Jorge Bolaños, head of the Cuban interest
section in Washington. Yet the matter remained in diplomatic limbo until
September 14th when the Cuban Government issued a response requesting a
six-month lift of the embargo and warning that the island-nation would
not accept assistance from a government that blocks them. Fidel Castro
sealed the matter two days later in one of his printed columns.

''I think there is no doubt that the final word of approval is with
Fidel Castro,'' commented Elizardo Sanchez Santacruz, a dissident
activist living in Havana.

Analysts consider that following the first interventions and promises of
transformations and governmental restructuring, including relaxing
government controls on purchases and travel, Raúl Castro has now lost
the reigns of the changes he had previously proposed.

Raúl Castro has shown little reticence to playing second fiddle to his
octogenarian brother in governmental matters. In November, Raúl told
journalists of the meeting between Fidel and Brazilian President Luiz
Inácio Lula da Silva, by stating that, “I only listened, learning from
both of them.''

During a recent interview with Sean Penn, published in The Nation, Raúl
Castro confessed to the actor that minutes prior to their meeting,
“Fidel called me just moments ago and wants me to call him after we
have spoken. He wants to know everything about what we speak here.''

Raúl also told Penn that he retains his old office, since Fidel's office
at the Council of State remains intact, including the presidential chair
belonging to Fidel at the parliament has remained empty since he last
participated in 2006. Fidel Castro has not appeared in public since his
illness in July of 2006 and the video images of him that were made
public in June of this year. The most recent photos of Fidel, made
public in November, show him looking extremely thin and fragile,
although according to those that have met with him, he remains
completely lucid and capable of making decisions.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/front-page/v-fullstory/story/813191.html

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