Castro As Cuba's President!

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Castro As Cuba's President!

Post  7Steven on Mon Feb 25, 2008 12:18 am

Well, okay, a different Castro... Raul, his brother takes over...

Raul Castro Will Succeed Brother as President of Cuba (Update4)

By Jens Erik Gould




Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Cuban lawmakers named Raul Castro as
president, formally ending the almost half-century rule of his
ailing brother Fidel.

Cuba's 614-member national assembly, made up of Communist
Party members, chose Raul Castro to rule the island nation for
the next five years, it announced today in televised proceedings.

The new president immediately proposed that Fidel Castro
continue to be consulted on the most important matters for Cuba,
such as defense, foreign policy and economic development. The
motion was met with sustained applause, and approved unanimously.

``Fidel is not substitutable,'' Raul Castro said in a speech.
``The people will continue his work when he isn't physically here
anymore.''

By keeping the presidency in the Castro family, Cuba aims to
preserve the character of the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro
while avoiding a power struggle and rapid political
transformation. Fidel is likely to limit his brother from making
any major changes to his policies while he is still alive.

``Fidel is brilliant, he has managed his own succession,''
said Riordan Roett, director of Western Hemisphere Studies at the
Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International
Studies. ``Who else in the world can do that?''

Fidel Castro, 81, began transferring day-to-day control to
his 76-year-old brother in July 2006, when he underwent
intestinal surgery. Since then, the older brother has maintained
his influence by using commentaries in the state media to
forestall Raul's bid to allow more private enterprise. Fidel
announced Feb. 18 that he wouldn't accept another term in office.

Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, who fought with Fidel Castro in
the 1959 revolution, was named first vice president.

Military Chief

``I assume the responsibility that has been given to me,
with the conviction that I affirmed many times, that there is
only one commander and chief of the Cuban revolution: Fidel is
Fidel,'' Raul Castro said today.

Raul Castro had been in charge of the military since his
brother took power. His appointment signals that maintaining
political stability is the top priority for the government and
sends a message to the Cuban people that the military holds the
most power on the island, said Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, an
associate professor of Political Science at the University of
Nebraska-Omaha who studies and visits Cuba.

Under Raul Castro, the government may face higher
expectations from Cubans demanding more food, powdered milk and
Internet access, said Jorge Pinon, a researcher at the Center for
Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami. Annual economic
growth of as much as 6 percent for the past three years hasn't
overcome widespread poverty or discontent over travel
restrictions and the island's two-tiered system for consumers,
depending on whether they have foreign currency, Pinon said.

Internet Video

Since Castro ceded absolute control in 2006, signs have
grown that Cubans are ready for change.

Earlier this month a video on the Internet showed students
asking critical questions of Ricardo Alarcon, head of the
national assembly, on a range of government policies. Last year
three military recruits took control of a bus and rode to the
Havana airport in an attempt to take over a Boeing 737, which
activists saw as a sign of growing discontent.

Raul never displayed the rhetorical flair or charisma of his
older brother, who was known for six-hour speeches. When Fidel
was dealing with an economic crisis caused by the fall of the
Soviet Union, Cuba's main supporter, Raul focused on managing the
military.

U.S. Policy

``The Cuban people, facing the legacy of five decades of
tyranny, merit our solidarity and support as they seek to
construct a brighter future,'' U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice said today in a statement before Raul's
election.

The transfer of power is unlikely to immediately improve
relations with the U.S., where anti-Castro voters are a
significant constituency in Florida.

``We have taken proper note of the offensive and openly
meddling declarations of the empire and some of its closest
allies,'' Raul Castro said today.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has said
that Cuba's leaders must show policies are changing by freeing
political prisoners and opening the economy before a presidential
meeting. Republican John McCain said last week that he didn't
expect any major political reforms in Cuba until after Fidel
Castro dies, according to the Associated Press.

Cuban Trade

``There's some steps before you get to President Bush
sitting down with Raul Castro, and that's where I think you
should start,'' Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel said on CNN's ``Late
Edition'' program today. ``For example, engaging with some
trade.''

Some U.S. leaders favor dialogue. Democratic presidential
candidate Barack Obama said Feb. 21 that, if elected, he would
meet with the new leader of Cuba ``without preconditions.''

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Texas, said
that the U.S. may need a ``new strategy for Cuba'' that includes
more trade, and it should consider a dialogue.

``Maybe talking to someone who seems to be a hardcore enemy
doesn't hurt anything, and it might help,'' Hutchison told ABC's
``This Week with George Stephanopoulos'' today.

The Castro brothers have fought together since 1953, when
they led a failed attack on Cuba's Moncada army barracks. After
being released from jail as part of a general amnesty, they
joined Argentine revolutionary Ernesto ``Che'' Guevara in Mexico,
and in 1956 crossed the Caribbean in a boat with 80 fighters to
start a guerrilla war against dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Batista's forces killed all but a dozen of them.

1959 Revolution

The Castros fled to the Sierra Maestra mountains and rallied
enough support to force Batista from power on New Year's Day in
1959.

Other top Cuban officials are unlikely to gain independent
power or much popular support under Raul, said Jaime Suchlicki,
Director of the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies.

``They're all subservient to Raul and the military,''
Suchlicki said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who sees himself as Fidel
Castro's heir in Latin America, called the younger Castro a
``good friend'' and ``comrade'' during his weekly talk show
``Hello, President,''

``He is more than Fidel's brother, he is the inseparable
comrade,'' Chavez said. ``Raul has always been here. Always
silent, always almost invisible, but always working, true to the
revolution, true to the Cuban people, and true, to his core, to
his big brother Fidel.''

Chavez assured Raul Castro on a telephone call broadcast on
Venezuelan state television that he will continue to support
Cuba.

``Nothing is going to change at all,'' Chavez said. ``We
will continue united.''

To contact the reporter on this story:
Jens Erik Gould in Los Angeles at
jgould9@bloomberg.net





Last Updated: February 24, 2008 17:25 EST

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