Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fidel Castro Bows Out Of Another Cuban Event

Convalescing Cuban leader Fidel Castro has bowed out of Thursday's Revolution Day festivities, with his stand-in and brother, Raul Castro, to speak in his place, the government said. "Raul will speak tomorrow" blared a red banner headline of the Communist party newspaper Granma. The news was hardly a surprise to most Cubans and foreign observers as Fidel Castro has repeatedly failed to appear in public since undergoing the first of a series of intestinal operations a year ago. "We'll be waiting for him. If Fidel can't make it, who better than Raul to be here," said Norma Iglesias, a teacher in the central town of Camaguey where this year's festivities marking the launch of Castro's revolution are taking place. Castro has traditionally delivered a state of the union style speech on July 26 in the province deemed to have been the most socially and economically successful each year. The date marks a 1953 assault on a military barracks that failed but nevertheless led to the formation of Castro's revolutionary movement, which toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.Castro, who turns 81 next month, has not made a public appearance since his illness, although he has written a series of editorial columns in the state-run media. Recent videos broadcast on television of him being interviewed and meeting foreign allies have shown him looking stronger. Castro's last public appearance was on July 26 last year in eastern Holguin province. Five days later, he temporarily ceded power to Raul Castro, who remains at the head of the government. The younger Castro, 76, has seemingly managed his first year in office with little difficulty, though expectations he would reform one of the most centralized state-dominated economies in the world have so far proved unfounded. Fidel Castro's exact condition and whereabouts remain state secrets and the balance of power between the brothers is also shrouded in secrecy. "Raul Castro's style is different -- no long speeches, no middle-of-the-night meetings, open criticism of economic performance and demands for results," said Phil Peters, a Cuba expert at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute policy group. "But he is respecting his interim role. As a result, his policy preferences won't be known until Fidel leaves the scene." That also appeared to be the perspective of some of the Castro brothers' contemporaries in Camaguey. "In the end, Raul will bring Fidel's message to Camagueyans and that's how we will receive him," retiree Roberto Garcia said in a telephone interview.