www.nytimes.com/2007/07/27/wo...2e&oref=slogin (external - login to view)
Cuba’s Revolution Now Under Two Masters
Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press
The scene by a billboard in Havana Thursday on the 54th anniversary of the Cuban revolution. With Fidel Castro ill, Cuba is in a kind of limbo
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
Published: July 27, 2007
CAMAGÜEY, Cuba (external - login to view)
, July 26 — For the first time, Raúl Castro (external - login to view)
, the acting president, gave the traditional revolutionary speech during Cuba’s most important national holiday on Thursday, deepening the widespread feeling that his brother Fidel has slipped into semi-retirement and is unlikely to return. Yet Cuba continues to live in a kind of limbo, with neither brother fully in control of the one-party Socialist state.
:pop_me_up2('http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2007/07/26/world/26cnd-cuba.ready.html', '26cnd_cuba_ready', 'width=720,height=600,scrollbars=yes,toolbars=no,resizable=yes')" target="_blank">Enlarge This Image (external - login to view)
Jose Goitia for The New York Times
Cuba's acting President Raul Castro spoke behind a sculpture of Fidel Castro, who was absent from the Revolution Day festivities in Cuba on Thursday.
:pop_me_up2('http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2007/07/27/world/27cuba_CA1.ready.html', '27cuba_CA1_ready', 'width=720,height=600,scrollbars=yes,toolbars=no,resizable=yes')" target="_blank">Enlarge This Image (external - login to view)
Jose Goitia for The New York Times
Cubans in Camagüey reacted on Thursday to Raúl Castro, the acting president, as he delivered an annual speech usually given by his brother.
Last year, Fidel Castro (external - login to view)
, the once all-powerful leader, led thousands of Communist Party faithful in cheers to celebrate the guerrilla attacks on army barracks that set off his revolution a half century ago. It was the last time he was seen in public.
That night, after two long speeches, the gaunt Mr. Castro, now 80, suffered an acute infection and bleeding in his colon from which he has yet to recover. Five days later, he handed over power to his brother Raúl, now 76, and a small group of cabinet officials on a temporary basis.
Since then, Cubans have lived under two masters, the elder Castro, ailing but still very much alive, and his younger brother, the longtime defense minister, who is not yet free to make significant changes.
“The question is why hasn’t there been more dramatic changes,” said Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a moderate opposition leader. “The answer is Fidel Castro continues to govern.”
Since the Communist Party has yet to officially replace Fidel Castro as the head of state, his presence in the wings and his towering history here continue to exert a strong influence in Cuban politics. That has made it difficult for Raúl Castro to shake up the island’s centralized Soviet-style economy, experts on Cuban politics said, though Raúl’s public remarks on Thursday made it clear he would like to.
He scolded the nation for having to import food when it possessed an abundance of rich land and vowed to increase agricultural production. He also said Cuba was seeking ways to secure more foreign investment, without abandoning Socialism.
“No one, no individual or country, can afford to spend more than what they have,” he said. “It seems elementary, but we do not always think and act in accordance with this inescapable reality. To have more we have to begin producing more.”
Mr. Castro spoke before a subdued crowd of about 100,000 people. The holiday commemorates the July 26, 1953, attack by the Castros and a ragtag group of guerrillas on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba. The attack ended in disaster, but it was the birth of the rebellion that eventually ousted Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
Raúl Castro’s hourlong speech was studded with references to his charismatic brother’s sayings. He ended the talk with one of Fidel Castro’s more famous quotations about the nature of a Socialist revolution, a passage the crowd mumbled along with him, like a prayer.
Indeed, at times, it seemed almost as if Mr. Castro were eulogizing his brother. “Not even during the most serious moments of his illness did he fail to bring his wisdom and experience to each problem and essential decision,” he said. “These have truly been very difficult months, although with the opposite effect that our enemies expected, those who dreamed chaos would erupt and Cuban Socialism would end up collapsing.”
Since Fidel Castro fell ill, he has had several operations and has said that at least one went badly. He will be 81 next month and gives no sign that he is in a hurry to return to office.
Cuban authorities periodically have released photos and videos showing Mr. Castro looking first gaunt, then later more robust. The last of the images appeared on Cuban television in early June.
Mr. Castro spends most of his time writing essays for the Communist Party newspaper on a variety of topics, from the Iraq war to the defection of Cuban boxers during the Pan-American Games in Brazil this month. He recently blamed the use of dollars and remittances from Cubans in the United States for “irritating inequalities and privileges.”
The columns are rambling and sometimes humorous. “I don’t have time now for films and photos that require me to constantly cut my hair, beard and mustache and get spruced up every day,” he grumbled in one of his essays, titled “Reflections of the Commander in Chief.”
Raúl Castro has taken several small but meaningful steps over the last year that suggest that he wants to open up Cuban society and perhaps move to a market-driven system, without ceding one-party control, not unlike what has happened in China. During the 1990s, he supported limited private enterprise and foreign investment, reforms his brother reversed four years ago.
Since becoming acting president, the younger Mr. Castro has twice offered to enter negotiations with the United States to end a half-century of enmity and sanctions. He repeated that stand on Thursday, noting that President Bush would soon be leaving office “along with his erratic and dangerous administration.”
“The new administration will have to decide whether it will maintain the absurd, illegal and failed policy against Cuba or if it will accept the olive branch that we offered,” he said. Mr. Castro has taken other small steps away from the rigid Communist line his brother follows. Fewer dissidents have been arrested this year than in the past and cadres of party militants have stopped harassing critics, Mr. Cuesta Morúa, the opposition leader, said.
On the economic front, Raúl Castro has allowed the importation of televisions and video disc players. He has told the police to let pirate taxis operate without interference. He pledged to spend millions to refurbish hotels, marinas and golf courses. He even ordered one of the state newspapers to investigate the poor quality of service at state-controlled bakeries and other stores.
Perhaps his most important step, however, was to pay the debts the state owed to private farmers and to raise the prices the state pays for milk and meat. Cubans still live on rations and cope with chronic shortages of staples like beef. Salaries average about $12 a month, and most people spend three-quarters of their income on food, according to a study by Armando Nova González, an economist at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy in Havana.
“What a person makes is not enough to live on,” said Jorge, a museum guard who asked that his last name not be used because he feared persecution. “You have to resort to the black market to get along. No, not just to get along, to survive.” He said he and his wife together made about $30 a month, just enough to support their family of four.
But Raúl Castro has disappointed many Cubans who had expected significant changes once he took power. He has always deferred to his brother, and he seems to lack the political power to take major actions until Fidel either gives up total control or dies, experts on Cuba said.
“I would say what is remarkable over the last year is how little has changed,” said Robert A. Pastor, a former aide to President Jimmy Carter (external - login to view)
and a political scientist at American University. “People have been calm, but of course, big brother has been watching.”
Fidel Castro’s influence extends beyond his new role as columnist in chief. Even as Raúl Castro appears headed toward consolidating his rule, leaders seem reluctant to roll back the elder Mr. Castro’s decision in 2003 to centralize the economy again and restrict the small-scale private enterprises that emerged in the 1990s after the fail of the Soviet Union, several economists and political scientists say.
Fidel Castro’s “main impact on Cuba is not his writings but that he’s alive, and it means Raúl and the others are reluctant to take major initiatives,” said Jorge I. Dominguez, a Harvard professor and Cuba expert.
In his speech, Raúl Castro acknowledged the stubborn problem of low wages and the lack of productivity, saying the economic problems were eating away at the social fabric. He urged Cubans to be patient.