Friday, August 04, 2006
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
MIAMI _ Cuban President Fidel Castro is in stable condition and recovering from surgery to stop intestinal bleeding, Cuban officials said Tuesday, but they issued no new photos of the 79-year-old dictator and provided little new information about his illness.
A cryptic statement attributed to Castro and read on an evening news program in Havana suggested that physicians were uncertain about his prognosis.
"I cannot invent good news, because that wouldn't be ethical," the statement said. "And if the news were bad, the only one to benefit is the enemy."
"I wish to say that the situation is stable, but a real evolution of the state of one's health requires the passing of time," the statement said. "The most I could say is that the situation will remain stable for many days before a verdict can be delivered."
The lack of detail left room for speculation about whether Castro, who turns 80 on Aug. 13, will stage a full recovery or whether Cuba might be on the cusp of change after 47 years of one-man rule.
U.S. officials said they believed that Castro was still alive, and Cuba's Parliament Speaker Ricardo Alarcon said the "final moment is still very far away."
Alarcon, however, also called the surgery a "delicate operation," and the sketchy information spurred some to consider alternatives. "It's really serious, because otherwise he would speak," a Havana resident named Jesus, who asked that his last name be withheld, said by telephone.
Castro's brother and the inheritor of his power, Raul, 75, remained out of sight amid reports of unusual troops movements in Havana and on the eastern end of island. Most residents of the capital appeared to be going about their daily business normally, however.
Cuba had announced Castro's surgery Monday night in an uncharacteristically detailed announcement, saying he was suffering from "sustained" intestinal bleeding and was ceding power to Raul. But there was no further news until the evening Round Table news program where the Castro statement was read.
Specialists in the United States said the symptoms could describe cancer, peptic ulcers or a variety of other problems.
In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Snow said the administration believed that Castro had survived the operation. He also said that the transfer of power to Raul Castro would make no difference in U.S. hostility toward the island's government.
"The fact that you have an autocrat handing power off to his brother does not mark an end to autocracy," Snow said.
In South Florida, where nearly 1 million Cuban exiles live, celebrations that had broken out Monday had largely ended by Tuesday, with many Castro foes expressing frustration at the unsettled news from their former home.
Others were defiant, and urged dissidents in Cuba to take to the streets to protest Raul's ascension to power.
"I hope to God he's dead," said Jose "Pepe" Diaz, a Cuban exile and Miami-Dade County commissioner. "But I think he might still be alive. Either way, this will be the start of the demise of the regime."
"It's time for the military not to shoot" at those who mount peaceful protests, said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., whose aunt was once married to Castro.
Snow said that the temporary transfer of power wouldn't generate an immediate change in U.S. policy toward Cuba. "There are no plans to reach out," he said, calling Castro's brother his "prison keeper."
The State Department reiterated U.S. policy that the United States would act only if a transitional government moved toward democracy.
Get-well messages poured in to Havana from around the world. Some came from the governments of Spain, Italy, Nicaragua, and from Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, both close to Castro.
Angela McArdle, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, said the agency had taken no steps to put into motion contingency plans to deal with any mass movement of people across the Florida Straits.
U.S. officials, recalling the hectic Mariel Boatlift of 1980, when more than 120,000 Cubans fled the island for the United States, warned against encouraging a mass migration that could endanger hundreds if not thousands of lives.
"I think people need to keep their emotions in check, difficult as it is," said Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., a Cuban-American.
Florida and federal authorities said they'd block any efforts to reach Cuba by boat.
"Don't attempt to leave," said Amos Rojas, regional director for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. "If there is a problem on the island, the Coast Guard will blockade it, and we're not going to let people go from here."
In Cuba, government opponents in the eastern city of Guantanamo said armed forces units were seen rounding up reservists as state security agents paid unfriendly visits to dissidents.
"We know the military is mobilized: they have us corralled," Guantanamo dissident Mariela Castro Fernandez said in a telephone interview. "There is a terrible silence outside."
In Havana, the government tried hard to project an air of normalcy. Government work centers brought employees together for small rallies throughout the capital. The two-humped buses known as "camels" were packed as usual, and 50-year-old Fords chugged along busy streets, residents reported. In Chinatown, people lined up to buy soft drinks to beat the heat.
Travelers arriving at Miami International Airport reported seeing increased military presence around the capital.
"I think I saw a million militiamen on the drive to airport," said Manuel Rodriguez, returning to Miami four days into what was supposed to be a 10-day visit to his mother in Cuba. Other passengers confirmed that they, too, saw military trucks and soldiers on the city's main thoroughfares.
Reports of an increased military presence also came from Cuba's eastern provinces, which have played critical roles in many of Cuba's wars and surround the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.
But the majority of Cubans contacted Tuesday said they didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. Residents in Santiago de Cuba reported that everything was quiet in that key eastern city.
"Everything's normal, everybody went out to work as usual, although with a heavy heart, because the president is ill," said the man who identified himself only as Jesus.
(Robles and Merzer report for The Miami Herald. Contributing to this report from Washington were Drew Brown and Pablo Bachelet.)
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.