Friday, January 20, 2006

Cuba begins to prepare for post-Castro era

Nothing would bring the exile and many Cuban communities and myself more pleasure than to see Fidel Castro OUT of office and OUT of power. Let us pray that this is the beginning of the end of this animals rule in Cuba. Coming from Miami, I am very well aware of the lives of the Cuban people I lived with and among for the whole of my life. "Soy Cubano por injeccione!"

Viva un Cuba LIBRE!!

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's leadership has begun to prepare for the day when President Fidel Castro is no longer around, amid concern the island's communist system could implode in a political void.

For the first time, government officials are discussing in public a formerly taboo issue -- what will happen when Castro leaves the scene through death or incapacitation?

Castro, who will be 80 this year, opened the debate on Cuba's future himself in a November 17 speech at Havana University, where he lashed out at profiteering, corruption and waste threatening the "revolution" he began 47 years ago.

"This country can self-destruct, this revolution can destroy itself," if mistakes are not corrected, he warned.

How can Cuba preserve socialism "when those who were the forerunners, the veterans, start disappearing and making room for new generations of leaders?" he asked the students.

Under Cuba's constitution, the Cuban leader's younger brother Raul Castro, who is defense minister, first vice-president and second secretary of the ruling Communist Party, is first in line to succeed.

But many Cubans doubt he has the charisma or the ambition to replace his brother, who has concentrated power in his own hands for nearly half a century.

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, the most prominent of a new generation of young leaders groomed by Castro, opened up the debate on Cuba's future in the National Assembly on December 23 when he spoke of "a void that no one can fill."

"The debate is now public for first time," said dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua, who heads the moderate opposition group Arco Progresista.

"People can speak a bit louder about the demise of Castro, because Felipe has mentioned it publicly," he said.

In a well-scripted event, Castro ceded the closing speech at the National Assembly to his 39-year-old protege who spoke from the seat usually occupied by his brother Raul, who was absent.


"Fidel is trying to transfer power to the next generation instead of the old guard revolutionaries," said a European ambassador.

"The question is will the Cuban population support a successor? The government knows that the people are very dissatisfied," the diplomat said.

Keenly aware of increased U.S. efforts to undermine a succession and ensure Cuba becomes a capitalist democracy, Castro has turned to a younger generation of Cubans to clean house.

In October, he sent teams of young social workers and students to operate pumps at gas stations and stop rampant theft of gasoline for sale on the black market.

Western diplomats said the anti-corruption drive and other steps against "nouveau riche" Cubans had echoes of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution in China forty years ago.

Since 2003 Cuba has tightened control over state finances and curbed private initiative, moves apparently aimed shoring up the communist state ahead of any change.

Cubans have endured dilapidated housing, poor public transport and economic hardship since the collapse of Soviet communism plunged the Caribbean island into crisis in 1991.

Castro has flung himself into the mammoth task of overhauling Cuba's obsolete electrical system, promising to end long power outages that fueled discontent last summer.

Cuba raised state salaries and pensions last year, but a big gap remains between meager peso wages paid by the state and hard currency incomes earned from black market activities and cash remittances from relatives in the United States.


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