DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Cuba held a military parade today to honor Fidel Castro's 80th birthday, but the guest of honor didn't show, and analysts are saying that Castro's 47-year reign as Cuba's leader is over. Castro remained a steadfast communist long after the doctrine faded in the rest of the world, but he was brought down this summer by illness and old age.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro joins us now from Mexico City to talk about today's developments. What does it mean that Castro didn't appear today?
LOURDES GARCIA NAVARRO: Well, Debbie, I don't think he's coming back. The transition seems to have taken place, and this seems to be a new era in Cuba. Castro has not appeared in public since his illness was announced over the summer. The images we've seen of him show a sick, old man.
This was a very important occasion. You can't sort of overestimate it. A birthday celebration for Fidel that had been postponed, it was meant to bolster the image of what Cuba represents, what Castro represents, and it seems to me it was more like a kind of wake, even though it was marking the 50th anniversary of the revolution. His brother Raul was at the helm today. He made a speech that made no direct reference to his brother Fidel or his condition.
I think if Fidel was in any condition to appear, he would have, and we can only infer by his absence that he was unable to.
Now, what does that mean? What is Fidel's real condition? Those are the questions. What we've seen after occasions like this is that they've released pictures of Fidel meeting with foreign dignitaries. It will be interesting to see if they give a kind of proof of life as they have in the past, but it's almost becoming a moot point, I think. Cuba is somehow signaling that it's moving on.
ELLIOTT: Now, Raul had a speech at this military parade today, and in it he made some comments that included what sounded like an overture to the U.S. Can you tell us about that?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think it was a really interesting thing that he said. I'm going to quote here. Raul said, This is an opportunity to once again declare our disposition to resolve on the negotiating table the longstanding conflict between the United States and Cuba.
Raul has never said anything like this before, where the eyes of the world through the international press were on them. And I think it can be interpreted as an overture to the United States. And I think the fact that Raul said it signals that Fidel, again, is not coming back. I don't think Fidel would have allowed a statement like that to be made, especially on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the revolution. I think it's significant. Although I don't think it will change the U.S. stance on Cuba anytime soon.
ELLIOTT: Have things changed in Cuba, as Fidel Castro is ailing and Raul Castro has been at the helm?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What they've been trying to do, I think, up until now is give this idea of continuity. They've been trying to show that Fidel's legacy lives on. All the public statements by senior officials have said Fidel will be recovering, the revolution continues. And Raul publicly has made those same kinds of statements. Nothing has changed yet, but it may.
Where Cubans, though, really want change is on the economic front. There's a lot of hardship in Cuba. People want the economy to open up, from what they've told me when I visited there several times. So far there have been no signs of that. But I think all we can do for now is wait and see what happens next.
ELLIOTT: You know, one of the other things that Raul Castro seemed to stress in his speech today was this sense of unity. Was there some sort of message there? Is there any concern that when the people of Cuba realize that Castro is not coming back, that there could be some sort of reaction?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think that that is one of the main concerns of not only the Cuban government but also Cubans on the street. They are very worried and concerned about what happens next. Change has often meant in Cuba, if you look at its history before the revolution, change has often meant periods of violence, periods of uncertainty. And I think that Cubans are looking very closely, as is the international community, to see what is going to happen. Can the communist government remain in place?
ELLIOTT: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.
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