Saturday, August 05, 2006

Cubans love America but not US meddling

Reuters

Fri Aug 4, 2006 7:02pm ET

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cubans love most things American. They play baseball with a passion and ride in vintage Dodges and Buicks. But few on the island want the United States to intervene in shaping their country's future.

With Fidel Castro convalescing in a hospital bed after relinquishing power to his brother for the first time in his 47-year rule, President Bush has stepped up calls for multiparty democracy in Cuba.

Anti-Castro exiles in Miami have called for a revolt against the Castro government and free elections on the island of 11 million. But in Cuba, many fear U.S. interference could lead to violence and upheaval.

"We don't want the Americans involved here," said Ulises, a student, drinking rum and cola before dawn on Thursday at an all-night bar in Havana.

"This system has no future, but we do not want an abrupt change, like in Iraq," said Ulises, who did not give his surname.

Even Castro's critics who favor a gradual transition to democracy and a free-market economy want to see change come without U.S. interference.

Dissident Oswaldo Paya, who advocates peaceful change in Cuba, considers increased Bush administration funding for Castro's opponents on the island counterproductive.

"Cuba's future must be decided by Cubans," he said.

NATIONAL PRIDE

Most Cubans have relatives living in the United States, the product of waves of emigration since Castro seized power in a 1959 revolution and built a one-party communist state 90 miles from Florida.

Hoping to live the American Dream of consumer plenty and a new car, many Cubans apply each day for U.S. visas to escape economic hardship in post-Soviet Cuba.

Hundreds others brave the choppy waters of the Florida Straits in smugglers' speedboats and precarious craft, even vintage American cars ingeniously crafted into amphibious vehicles. Some drown in the crossing.

But national pride takes over when it comes to Cuban sovereignty and the history of U.S. control over the island from the Spanish-American War to Castro's revolution, drummed into Cubans from early school.

Castro reinforced Cuban nationalism with frequent charges in his speeches that his enemies in Washington planned to annex Cuba after eliminating him by invasion or assassination.

Handing over power to younger brother and Defense Minister Raul Castro on Monday following major surgery for intestinal bleeding, his statement said he was doing so due to the U.S. threat.

Older Cubans still remember the 1962 Bay of Big's invasion, when anti-Castro paramilitaries trained and armed by the CIA landed in Cuba and were quickly routed. The threat prompted Castro to declare his revolution socialist and embrace the Soviet Union.

Not all Cubans believe a U.S. threat exists today.

"Cubans have nothing against Americans. It is all politics," said a Havana bookstore salesman, offering well-worn copies of Hemingway novels and books on Che Guevara.

"The government portrays them as bad," he said, calling the threat of a U.S. invasion "folklore."

Ulises hopes for a post-Castro future that combines the best of capitalism -- competition and efficiency -- with the best of socialism -- free health care and education.

Dressed in blue jeans and sneakers sent to him by family in Miami, he criticizes state inefficiency in Cuba.

"We need competition here. In any other country, this bar would be private," he said. But he does not like the thought of American capitalism taking over his country again.

"The casinos and brothels would be back," he said.

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