Raul Castro remains in Fidel's shadow
By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer 29 minutes ago
HAVANA - Raul Castro has spent his entire life in the shadow of older brother Fidel. As Cuba's acting president, he continues to be on the sidelines.
The focus remained entirely on Fidel Castro Wednesday as Cuba's state-run media ran messages wishing a swift recovery after surgery for intestinal bleeding to the only ruler most Cubans have ever known.
In the first two days after he was granted temporary control of the country, Raul Castro — the brother Fidel reportedly trusts more than anyone — was nowhere to be seen.
The reason why was unclear. The elder Castro could be reluctant to relinquish power after his 47-year rule, even if it's temporary, or media run by the Communist government could be focusing solely on him out of respect and habit. Raul, who has long deferred to his elder brother, could be keeping a low profile for the same reasons.
The elder Castro also made no appearances Wednesday, though his inner circle issued a statement late Tuesday telling Cubans he was in good spirits and beginning his recovery. His sister Juanita Castro, who lives in Miami and has been estranged from him since 1963, told CNN she had spoken with people in Havana who told her that her brother was released from intensive care Wednesday morning.
"He's not dead," she said, addressing rumors and speculation in South Florida that her brother had died. "He's very sick, but he's not dead."
Cuban Parliament Speaker Ricardo Alarcon told the New York-based independent radio show Democracy Now! that Castro was "very alive and very alert" when the men spoke the previous day, and that Castro was clearly in charge when he delegated specific tasks of government to his brother and six other high-ranking officials during his recovery.
Other than that, there was no new information about Castro's health. The daily current events show on state television, replayed late Wednesday, focused on such sports as martial arts and synchronized swimming.
People in Havana continued to go about their daily business, with no signs of an uprising. Even so, there appeared to be an increase in police patrols in some working-class neighborhoods and in coastal areas that have seen civil disturbances in the past.
The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the government's neighborhood watch groups, stepped up volunteer night patrols. Rapid Action Brigades, pro-government civilian groups used in the past to handle civil disturbances, were placed on standby.
Many Castro supporters expressed confidence that his health would improve and the island's communist system would remain intact no matter what happens to the elder Castro.
Fidel Castro "is just going to rest up for a couple of months," said retiree Clemente Perez. "Raul will be in charge, without a single problem."
"The revolution will continue while Fidel recovers," proclaimed Juventud Rebelde, the Communist youth newspaper. "Fidel, get well," read a front-page headline in the Communist Party daily Granma.
In Washington, Republican senators began drafting legislation to implement a plan by the Bush administration to give $80 million over two years to Cuban dissidents fighting for democratic change. Prominent Cuban dissidents have been wary of such aid, saying it would only endanger them and their cause.
Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, said Bush told him the administration was caught off-guard by Castro's illness. "I think all of us can say we had no idea this was coming," he said.
He didn't elaborate, but the remarks may speak to the scanty reliable intelligence the U.S. has on its Cold War foe just 90 miles south of Florida.
Cmdr. Jeff Carter of the U.S. Coast Guard, which patrols the water between Cuba and Florida, said there were no signs that Cubans were preparing to make the dangerous crossing in either direction.
Gleeful celebrations broke out in Florida, where hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles live, when Castro's illness was announced. Cubans on the island expressed outrage Wednesday that people would celebrate an old man's infirmity.
"That's what you can expect from the type of trash that lives in the United States and cares nothing about this country," Havana housewife Oralis Delgado said.