Posted on Wed, May. 02, 2007
Raúl's reforms put on hold
Fidel Castro was a no-show at Tuesday's May Day parade, but he still
casts a long shadow over his brother.
By FRANCES ROBLES
Underlining the impression that hopes for reforms in Cuba following
Fidel Castro's health crisis have now stalled amid reports of his
recovery, interim leader Raúl Castro silently presided over a massive
May Day parade Tuesday.
The 80-year-old Fidel did not show up despite widespread speculation
that he would make his first public appearance since undergoing
intestinal surgery almost exactly nine months ago.
Instead there was only Raúl Castro, who did not speak a word before the
hundreds of thousands of people gathered at Havana's Plaza de la Revolución.
It was a dramatic shift from the long and blustery Castro speeches that
Cubans had grown accustomed to — Castro spoke for three hours at last
year's May Day celebration — and underscored the uncertainty facing
Cubans about who is really in charge.
''The longer Fidel is alive, the more it impedes Raúl's consolidation of
power,'' said Andy Gómez, a senior fellow at the University of Miami's
Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. “When you take a look at
history, you see dictators that have hung on. . . . It has always
impacted the new person coming into play.
“The longer Fidel remains alive, the question inside the Cuban regime
is going to be: Is Raúl really calling the shots or is Fidel?''
Fidel Castro did not show despite widespread speculation that he would
make his first public appearance since shortly before July 31 — when
the government announced that intestinal bleeding required him to
temporarily turn power over to his brother, who is seen as more
pragmatic and open to economic reforms.
But in recent weeks Fidel Castro's health has appeared to improve, and
some experts believe that he has now put the brakes on any reform-minded
In the first months of Castro's sickness, there was much talk about the
systemic failures of the revolutionary system — failures that Castro
had long blamed on Washington or corrupt Cubans. That clamor now has
dropped to a whisper. Unprecedented investigative journalism reports
published in the Cuban state media for several months have stopped. The
papers are back to running blistering anti-U.S. rhetoric.
And an academic commission formed to study problems with the system of
socialist property — the government owns just about everything —
recently announced it would issue a report in three years.
''Months ago they were admitting systemic problems, saying this system
is not working the way it should. They are not saying that anymore,''
said Brian Latell, a former top CIA Cuba analyst. ''Is this Fidel's
show, or is there a hard-liner Fidelista group persuading Raúl to slow
all that?'' Latell said it's unclear whether Fidel is recovering and
putting a stop to his brother's projects, or hard-liners are exerting
more influence on Raúl.
''It may be a combination of a fear in the current leadership of
repudiating policies long cherished by Fidel while he is still alive and
aware,'' he said.
Elizardo Sánchez, who heads the illegal but tolerated Commission on
Human Rights and National Reconciliation, had another theory: “The idea
that [Fidel Castro] . . . is opposed to reform can serve as a cover
story for his brother and others to justify inaction, immobilization and
“While the comandante is in charge and can see and hear what is around
him, nothing is going to happen.''
Sánchez said he believes the majority of the mid and lower-level
bureaucrats are eager for reform, but they have always been stymied by
Fidel and a close circle of followers.
To be sure, Raúl's nine months on the job have not been without power.
But while many Cuba-watchers expected him to embrace economic reforms,
he has instead cracked down on illegal businesses and off-the-books
work. A law that went into effect last month requires people to show up
to their jobs on time — and work.
''I would say Fidel has not stopped any reforms, because there have been
no reforms,'' Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, a former Cuban exile who returned
to Cuba to fight the government from the inside, said by phone from Havana.
“If he could act without the guidance of Fidel, Raúl could perhaps
offer some light reforms. It's not that Raúl is interested in reforms.
It's that Cuba requires change. I don't perceive reforms of any kind. On
the contrary, he is demanding more of the worker.''