Castro's Move Stirs Speculation in Cuba

A man and a boy drive their horse cart close to a poster of Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana. i i

A man and a boy drive their horse cart close to a poster of Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana. Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images
A man and a boy drive their horse cart close to a poster of Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana.

A man and a boy drive their horse cart close to a poster of Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana.

Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images

How is Cuba reacting to President Fidel Castro's temporary absence from power? Gary Marx, foreign correspondent for Chicago Tribune offers his insights.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Cuban television has read a statement from President Fidel Castro. In it, he says he's in stable condition and in perfectly good spirits. Castro underwent intestinal surgery and has temporarily handed over control to his younger brother Raul. It's the first time in 47 years that the 79-year-old leader has turned over power.

In a moment, we'll hear reaction to Castro's illness from a dissident in Havana, and we'll also go to Little Havana in Miama, where Cuban Americans continue to celebrate the news that Castro has temporarily stepped aside.

First to NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, who's in Havana. And Lourdes, what more was in that statement that was read on Cuban television?

LOURDES GARCIA: Well, Melissa, the message was read out on the evening state-run public affairs program, or the Mesa Redonda as it's called here. In it, he said his health was stable without really giving any further details. And the reason he said he wasn't giving any further details was because he said his health was a state secret. He said the enemies of Cuba could take advantage of the situation, and he warned that the armed forces were ready to protect the country at any cost.

Now, this is not by any stretch of the imagination a message that was meant to soothe a worried nation. He said in the statement that was let out that he couldn't, quote, invent good news when there wasn't any to give. So in short, Cubans are really still pretty much in the dark about what exactly his condition is and when and if he will recover.

BLOCK: And would Cubans have been expecting to get more information tonight?

GARCIA: Well, I think they wanted more information, but they're used to not getting it here. Castro's health has always been a very closely guarded secret. I think people do want to know what's going on, of course, and there was some expectation that they would have a clearer picture tonight. But that didn't happen.

You know, this is uncharted territory here in Cuba. Castro has never handed over power to anyone before. People know it's serious. But they don't really know what to expect, I think.

BLOCK: And again, this was a statement from him. He did not appear on video or on film or in any other way.

GARCIA: No, he did not appear at all. You know, this was read out in this public affairs program. There weren't actually any signs of Raul Castro, his brother, who he's handed over power to. There weren't any signs of any, you know, senior administration officials, either. This was a simple message that was read out, and then they moved on.

BLOCK: Well, with all of this uncertainty, what's the mood like there in the capital?

GARCIA: Well, on the surface, certainly, it appears to be quite calm. There isn't a lot of police, you know, more police on the streets than normal. People are going about their business. But I think underneath all that, people are certainly worried. Some of the Cubans that I've spoken to have certainly expressed their concern. They don't know what's coming next. One man said to me that he was worried that there would be some kind of violence and power struggle.

You know, Cubans have been preparing for this for a long time, in a way, because they know, you know, that Castro wasn't going to last forever. But now that it's happened and they don't really know exactly what his condition is, they are worried, definitely.

BLOCK: Worried. And do you hear anybody saying that they really feel that Cuba could be at a turning point right now?

GARCIA: Well, I think certainly this is a turning point. As I said before, you know, this has never happened before. And the fact that this transition is taking place right now is sort of a preparing the way, paving the way for what I think Castro and his brother and the Communist Party here hope will be a smooth eventual transition here. They don't want a sort of abrupt handing over of power.

And they've been preparing this for quite some time. You know, Raul's been much more public, in the public eye over the past several months. And they've been talking much more about the transition here in Cuba. So I think that they're trying to give every appearance that this is business as usual, even though, of course, it isn't.

BLOCK: What more can you tell us about Raul Castro, the younger brother. He's been the country's defense minister.

GARCIA: That's right. I mean, he is, you know, Castro's younger brother. He is a man who, you know, is untested in many ways. We know everything has been about Fidel in this country and it remains to be seen whether or not people will really warm to him, whether people will really follow him and whether he can really take the mantle of his brother.

BLOCK: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Havana. Thanks very much.

GARCIA: You're welcome.

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