Looking to a Post-Castro Cuba
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The US government has appointed a Cuba Transition Coordinator to help this government decide how to deal with Cuba after Fidel Castro. The Cuban government roundly condemned what it called American interference in the sovereign affairs of the Communist island.
The Cuban people are also wondering what will happen when Castro dies, however. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro sat down with two families in Havana to talk about their hopes and fears for the future. Both families interviewed for this story asked that their names not be divulged.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:
Fidel Castro has ruled Cuba for 46 years and his has been an overwhelming presence. But his fainting episode and his fall in 2004 reminded many here that no matter how strong his will to survive, the years that lie in front of the Cuban regime led by Castro, now 79 years old, are far fewer than those that are behind it. News that Cuban exile groups and the US government are formally planning for a transition has gotten around here.
In their small kitchen, a mother and her stepson are making lunch, consisting of fried croquettes, rice and avocados. Talking about anything that smacks of subversion is avoided in Cuba, but in this several-bedroom house in a more prosperous neighborhood in Havana, the US government-sponsored Radio Marti, banned by Cuban authorities, is occasionally listened to, and through it, they've heard about the American transition plans.
Unidentified Woman #1: (Spanish spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: `I'm very worried,' says the mother. `What I've heard they want to do, I don't agree with. For example, the Cubans that left here left their property. They can't just come back and kick people out,' she says. `They can't come back and destroy some of the advances we've made, for example, health. I go to the doctor or get operated on and it doesn't cost me a penny,' she says.
Her fear that exiled Cubans will return to the island and reclaim their property is a particularly sore subject over lunch, as housing is limited and many live in homes that were not originally their own. The mother is the same age as Fidel, and before the revolution she came from a lower-income family. Most of her relatives now live abroad, mainly in Miami. While she says she's not a staunch revolutionary, she says she admires parts of what has happened here. There's a mixture of resignation and patriotic pride in what she says next.
Unidentified Woman #1: (Spanish spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: `If Fidel dies,' she says, `forget about it. He's created a whole system to replace him. He's chosen smart people to succeed him. He's prepared it all. And anyway, Cuban problems require a Cuban solution.'
Forty-six years of propaganda by Cuban authorities denouncing what it says are America's imperialist plans for the island have left her mistrustful of the US' intentions, and she says that hasn't been helped by the US policy of economic embargo and its alliance with Miami's hard-line exile community.
But her stepson, who works as an illegal driver, is from a younger generation and he says he's looking forward to a more open Cuba. He complains about how hard it is to make a living, how the system here forces people to act outside the law to make ends meet.
Unidentified Man #1: (Through Translator) I think this country could be great and people would work hard if they could get a decent salary. I don't care if this becomes capitalism or advanced socialism, but whatever it is, I think things could be better than what they are now.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But he fears that once Fidel dies, there will be bloodshed, with revenge killings taking place, as Cuba operates under a system of neighborhood committees and informants.
Unidentified Man #1: (Through Translator) I think a change is going to bring all kinds of problems, problems between people here. There's a lot of hate here between people because of the way Cubans live here. That could all bubble up.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Across town, in a dilapidated historic Havana building, seven members of one family live in a tiny apartment that has been split into two floors by adding a partition. The bottom half is for living. The top half is for sleeping.
Unidentified Woman #2: (Through Translator) My mother, my husband, my two daughters, my grandson, my son-in-law, the dog and I live here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The daughter, who's pregnant with her second child, says things are tight.
Unidentified Woman #3: (Through Translator) Can you believe I'm going to have my baby in December and I don't have space for my baby's crib?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But when the subject of what could happen here after Fidel dies comes up, the daughter shakes her head.
Unidentified Woman #3: (Through Translator) I don't even want to think about it. I have a mental block.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Her mother adds that for many who live here, life after Fidel seems almost impossible to conceive.
Unidentified Woman #2: (Through Translator) People in Cuba may talk about communism, but it's not communism here. It's Fidelismo.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The mother explains she believes that some here feel a personal loyalty towards the man who has led them for so many years, but perhaps not his successors. The daughter says that she's confused about it all.
Unidentified Woman #3: (Through Translator) If you think about Fidel dying, which has to happen because after all, it's inevitable, the future seems so uncertain. Who knows if what the Yankees want for this place is good or bad? We just don't know anything. We have no idea what's going to happen here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.