Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cuba in fear of the unknown as Fidel Castro fades

The cubans don't know what will be their future......... they hate to see Chavez in TV all the time, like in venezuela. We are all tired of Chavez and Fidel.
vdebate reporter

February 24, 2008
Cuba in fear of the unknown as Fidel Castro fades

Fidel Castro's long goodbye is posing a delicate moral dilemma for Alfredo Hernandez, a member of one of the few Jewish families to remain in Cuba after the 1959 revolution.
Hernandez’s grandparents arrived in Havana in 1913 and acquired a sprawling cattle ranch near the eastern city of Camaguey. The farm was confiscated in the first wave of Castro’s nationalisations.
As the ailing 81-year-old Cuban dictator slowly relinquishes his grip on power – his brother Raul is expected to replace him as president today – Hernandez has been wondering if future changes in economic policy might one day offer his family the chance to fulfil a long-held dream.
“It was our house, but Fidel gave it away,” Hernandez said. “Maybe now Fidel is going we might get it back, no? It’s only fair for people to reclaim their belongings.”
It is a question many Cubans have been pondering with mounting trepidation as both political and economic uncertainty envelops a ruined economy once memorably described as “Stalinism with pineapples”.
Yet Hernandez is the first to admit that questions of ownership and compensation will be hard to address in any future economic transition from state regulation to private initiative. His family may have been booted off its ranch, but it was offered a replacement home in Havana that in turn had been seized from a wealthy businessman who had fled into exile in Miami.
“If we can claim our farm back, does that mean they get their house back?” said Hernandez, a 32-year-old English teacher. “It’s the house where I’ve lived all my life. My family has lived there for nearly 50 years. I can’t imagine losing it.”
The Castro regime has long played up the threat of mass disruption should President George W Bush succeed in his supposed plan to “annex” Cuba and hand over all its assets to the capitalist gusanos (worms) of Miami’s 1m-strong Cuban exile community. The US government maintains a growing list of almost 6,000 legal claims to confiscated Cuban property, estimated to be worth more than $6 billion (£3 billion).
Billboards around Havana warn of the dangers of “El plano Bush”, which is not only said to threaten property and jobs but, according to one poster near the grim Soviet-era housing estates of suburban Alamar, will also “take away your good morning kiss from your child, deny you their hug before school and extinguish the sparkle in their eyes”.
Other Cubans last week doubted there would be any change at all – a feeling reinforced on Friday when, three days after declaring that “my elemental duty is not to cling to positions [of power]”, Castro returned to the country’s state-control-led newspapers with new warnings about the annexation plots of the devious “Yanquis”.
Cecilia Lopez, a former surgeon at one of Havana’s most prestigious hospitals, says the political posturing of the Cuban and American governments has long been “a stupid game” to her mind.
“The Americans are fools,” she said. “As long as they insist on this economic blockade, the Cuban government can blame everything on Washington and people here will accept that. If they take away the blockade the government will have no more excuses.”
Lopez walked away from her high-ranking job four years ago, disgusted with insanitary conditions at the hospital and a rate of pay so low that staff were departing in droves to work in Cuban medical missions abroad. “They thought it would be easier to feed themselves in Venezuela,” said Lopez. “But I think a lot of them were disappointed.”
Her hospital has since been renovated, but the work was done so shabbily that the ceiling of the intensive care unit recently collapsed on a patient who had just undergone cardiac surgery. “You laugh,” she said, “but it’s horrible.”
Like many in Havana last week Lopez shied away from blaming Castro for the island’s massive ills, which include water shortages, food rationing, severe restrictions on travel and internet use, and the continuing repression of dissidents. Other countries have black markets in currency or cigarettes but Cuba remains perhaps the only place in the world where a shifty-looking trader might whisper in your ear: “Pssst! Want to buy some carrots?”
Not only has there been no spontaneous eastern-European-style uprising, but there was not a trace of antiregime graffiti on the crumbling walls of old Havana last week, and in three days of talking to dozens of Cubans about Raul’s takeover the harshest words I heard were spoken in a barber’s shop: “One Castro for another is no change,” said a young Afro-Cuban who was having his head shaved. “Same direction, same fear.”
Various explanations have been offered for the outwardly placid reaction in both Havana and Miami to the looming demise of El Comandante, the only leader most of the Cuban population has ever known. Cuba-watchers in Washington believe that only Fidel’s death is likely to trigger any serious national soul-searching.
Most analysts believe that Raul Castro, considered a pragmatist and a potential reformer, is highly unlikely to begin dismantling his brother’s legacy as long as Fidel is alive.
Yet it quickly emerged that many Cubans have already made up their minds about who they do not want exercising any kind of authority in Havana. “He’s a stupid clown,” said Arturio Perez, an artist.
“He’s a very cheap copycat,” said Cesar Morales, a trainee teacher. “He’s a sham and an opportunist,” said Gustavo Barredo, a taxi driver.
They were all talking about Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan strongman who has laid claim to Castro’s mantle as the chief thorn in America’s side and the standard-bearer of Latin American revolution. A frequent visitor to Havana, Chavez has cosied up to Castro while using Venezuela’s oil fortune to prop up the Cuban regime.
His de facto subsidies are estimated to be worth up to £2 billion a year – almost as much as the aid Cuba lost after the 1991 collapse of its previous benefactor, the Soviet Union.
Chavez’s revolutionary posturing – he waves books by Che Guevara at his rallies and often appears in a Che-style beret – has become a source of intense irritation in Havana, where the Venezuelan leader is seen by many ordinary Cubans not as a saviour, but as a sinister fraud.
“He has become like a second president in Cuba,” complained Maria del Carmen Lablanca, a former government translator. “We have only four television channels, and on three of them there’s always Chavez. Why? He’s not my president and I don’t want to see his show on my TV.”
At times it seemed last week that criticism of Chavez had become a code for criticism of Castro himself. If Raul emerges – as expected – as Cuba’s new president today, his relationship with Chavez threatens to be his most testing challenge.
Most analysts believe that the economy would quickly collapse without its Venezuelan crutch; yet the more Cubans see of Chavez, the more publicly they may complain.
It is all adding up to a tense and unsettling transition in a country that seems trapped between a broken ideological fantasy and a promise, albeit distant, of paradise regained. Perhaps the most notable sentence in Castro’s announcement last Tuesday was: “This is not my farewell to you . . . I shall continue to write.”
Fidel’s folly
When Fidel Castro took power in January 1959, his country was among the five most prosperous nations in Latin America.
After 49 years of his brand of socialism, it ranks as one of the poorest in the region. Cubans today live on a minimum wage of 225 pesos or just over £5 a month, while national wealth has barely increased in decades.
According to the Index of Economic Freedom, Cuba’s centrally planned economy is one of the least free in the world, exceeded only by that of North Korea.

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