Thursday, August 03, 2006

Cubans inside the island speak

Globe and Mial, Canada


Vendors weigh Cuba's future in street markets of Havana


From Thursday's Globe and Mail

HAVANA — Jaimi Gonzalez is worried. Like the majority of Cubans, the 30-year-old market vendor has never known a president other than Fidel Castro, who has ruled this Caribbean island since 1959.

"You never know what to expect when there's a change of government," said Ms. Gonzalez, as she shooed away the flies that were swarming about her meagre display of unrefrigerated pork, laid out unceremoniously on a cement counter.

"You don't know whether it will get better or worse. We have to start thinking of the future," she continued.

"Of course, I can conceive of another president other than Fidel," said a 49-year-old man identifying himself only as hermano, the Spanish word for brother, adding with just a hint of hesitation, that "we have never had Raul as president."

Clearly concerned not to express any doubt, he then sounded a reassuring note. "Raul is well known. He's been the Minister of Defence for many years."

"Some people say that Raul likes war and that he thinks differently from Fidel," Ms. Gonzalez said at her butcher counter.

"This is a very critical moment," said one woman fruit seller, who was clearly reluctant to speak. "It's not that I'm afraid, but you don't know who's listening to you."

"It's true we want him to recover, because nobody wants a radical change," she continued.

Frank, a 28-year-old telecommunications worker decried the celebratory demonstrations among Cuban Americans in Miami, who he said "are waiting for the least opportunity to do anything against the revolution."

Rafael Migueles, a 61-year-old retired TV producer, is a true believer, a fervent supporter of the revolution, who doesn't see any reason for change in Cuba.

"There may be people who are against the revolution, but I believe that 90 per cent of the population is supporting the revolution," he said.

He warns that the United States is wrong if it thinks it can take advantage of Mr. Castro's hospitalization to move against the country.

"They think the country is weak. Of course, the country is not weak at all. The country is sad that this has happened to Fidel but we are not afraid at all.

"This is not the fight of one man," Mr. Migueles continued, referring to the revolution. "It's a fight that started 200 years ago, before Fidel and Raul were born."

Despite his fervour, Mr. Migueles is aware that Cubans may not be doing as well economically as their neighbours across the Florida Straits in Miami, where one of his daughters lives.

"She lives better than we do, but like the rest of Americans, they can't get sick," he said, referring to the lack of universal health care in the United States. "If they get sick, it's a problem.

"Last year, I had a heart attack. I was in intensive care for seven days, and for six months, I was paid 100 per cent of my salary," he said with pride. "We don't live as we want, but we live as we can."

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