WORLD / America

Cuba tries to dispel uncertainty
(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-08-05 08:40

Cuba's government said on Friday that Raul Castro was firmly in charge of the country but uncertainty over its political future grew as the new acting president still did not appear in public.

The ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma provided no new details on the condition of ailing leader Fidel Castro four days after he handed over power temporarily to his brother after surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding.

"Raul is firmly at the helm of the nation and the armed forces," Granma said.

Rejecting calls by US President George W. Bush for a transition to multi-party democracy after 47 years under Fidel Castro, the newspaper said the situation in Cuba was totally calm.

"The word transition does not exist in the vocabulary of Cubans here," Granma said, dismissing Bush's statement on Thursday as "unacceptable."

Many Cubans wondered when Raul, 75, would speak to the nation after Fidel ceded power to him.

"Raul will have to appear at some point. That is what we are all waiting for," said Antonio Cabana, a worker in Central Havana.

The only sign of the younger Castro was a photo on Granma's front page of his arrest at age 22 following the near-suicidal assault led by his brother on the Moncada garrison in Santiago in 1953 with a story recounting his heroism.

The Granma statement was issued one day after Bush made his first public statement on Cuba since Fidel gave power to his brother.

"I urge the Cuban people to work for democratic change on the island. We will support you in your effort to build a transitional government in Cuba committed to democracy," Bush said on Thursday.

Communist Youth newspaper editor Rogelio Polanco said on Cuban television on Thursday night that Bush's urgings were futile.

"The only way to apply the Bush plan for regime change in Cuba is by force, and force will not work," he said.

"Raul is firmly at the helm of the nation and leading the armed forces that have a proven combat record and international experience. Make no mistake," Polanco warned.

Bush, whose administration has tightened the long-standing US embargo against Cuba, said, "It has long been the hope of the United States to have a free, independent and democratic Cuba as a close friend and neighbour."

"We will take note of those in the current Cuban regime who obstruct your desire for a free Cuba," Bush said.

Cuban commentators accused Bush of playing up to anti-Castro groups in Miami, whom they called a "bloodthirsty mafia" for encouraging an uprising against the Cuban government.

Cuban exiles danced in Miami streets after Castro's announcement on Monday. On Wednesday a leading exile group, the Cuban American National Foundation, called for the creation of a new government, saying Castro's era was over.

Analysts said Cuba's leaders may feel that if Raul appeared too early it might touch off panic among Cubans after so many years under Fidel.

Also still unanswered was whether Fidel Castro, the 79-year-old one-time guerrilla fighter, would ever return to power. Apart from an earlier statement that he was in a stable condition, he too has remained out of sight.

(China Daily 08/05/2006 page5)