Castro nearly a year out of public eye
Many say Cuba much the same
HAVANA -- When Fidel Castro last appeared in public one year ago tomorrow, he enthusiastically led about 100,000 Communist Party faithful in celebrating the audacious attack on an army barracks that launched his revolution.
These days, the convalescing 80-year-old seems to be in vigilant semiretirement.
He tracks government affairs and writes essays from an undisclosed location, apparently in no rush to resume the hectic lifestyle he blamed for his ailment. He can spend hours watching the Pan American games on television, writing last week that he is so engrossed that he forgets to eat and take his medicine.
With island life largely unaltered under a caretaker government led by his younger brother Raúl, there seems little reason for Fidel to put on his olive green uniform again and rail against the American "empire."
That frustrates ardent supporters as well as his antagonists in Washington and Miami, who had hoped for rapid change in Cuba.
"There were a lot of expectations for change," said Cuba analyst Phil Peters, of the prodemocracy Lexington Institute think tank outside Washington. "But in Cuba, there have been no signs of any tensions inside the system, no unrest on the streets, no changes in politics or the economy."
Dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua said "it has been a year of the greatest political calm" since Castro stepped aside last July 31, but the country's future remains clouded as long as the Castro brothers' future roles remain undefined.
"We are waiting for the definitive transfer of power to Raúl Castro so his actions can be measured," said Cuesta Morua, who like many Cubans believes the younger brother is more likely to undertake modest reforms in the centralized economy.
In the past, Raúl had expressed interest in China's model of a state-dominated market economy with one-party political control. And he backed foreign investment and limited private enterprise, which saved Cuba's economy in the 1990s after the Soviet bloc collapsed.
Senior officials stopped insisting months ago that Fidel Castro will return to power. But unless he dies or relinquishes total control, no major changes are expected from Raúl, who has always deferred to his brother.
"This year may mark the end of Fidel Castro's domination of Cuba; but significant, positive political change is unlikely immediately," Thomas Fingar, the US deputy director of National Intelligence, told the House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee this month. "Although Raúl Castro has solidified his own position as successor, it is too soon to tell what policy course he will take once Fidel has left the scene."
Most expect Raúl, the 76-year-old defense minister, to lead tomorrow's Revolution Day festivities in the provincial capital of Camaguey. Although the 1953 assault on the army barracks failed, and many militants died, Castro went on to oust dictator Fulgencio Batista six years later.
Loyalists now seem to accept the probability the man they know as "Comandante en Jefe" might never be seen publicly again.
Still, some Cubans wept publicly in December when Fidel didn't attend a major military parade. And Castro's absence was felt at memorials for Vilma Espín, Raúl's wife and former fellow guerrilla, who died last month at age 77.
Castro is believed to suffer from diverticular disease, which causes inflammation and bleeding of the colon, and has acknowledged that at least one of his several surgeries went badly. Over the past year, Cuban authorities have issued photos and videos that at first showed him looking gaunt, and later more robust. The most recent images, a pretaped interview with Cuban TV, were released in early June.
But Castro has warned not to expect such images frequently.
"I don't have time now for films and photos that require me to constantly cut my hair, beard, and mustache, and get spruced up every day," Castro grumbled in one of his essays, which are entitled "Reflections of the Commander in Chief."
Castro also has retained the presidency of Cuba's Council of State, the nation's executive body. Like other top leaders, he is also a National Assembly deputy, his only post won through direct elections.
To remain council president, Castro must be reelected as a deputy and be voted into the top post by the assembly.