Friday, September 14, 2007

Fidel Castro will have to convince Cubans not to re-elect him as leader, official says

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press
Published: September 12, 2007

HAVANA: Fidel Castro will have to persuade Cubans — even his brother Raul — if he decides not to serve another term as president because of health issues, a Cabinet member said Wednesday.

Elections are expected to vote next spring for Cuba's National Assembly, or parliament, which in turn will chose a new Council of State, the country's supreme governing body. Castro has held the council presidency since 1976, although he has been the nation's unchallenged leader since 1959.

Castro "would have to convince the people not to be re-elected," Culture Minister Abel Prieto said. Cubans are convinced "Fidel has to stay on top, and even Raul would totally agree with that."

Castro still officially holds the title of Council of State president, even though he announced in mid-2006 that emergency intestinal surgery was forcing him to cede power to a provisional government headed by his younger brother, who is now 76.

"I'm convinced that the immense majority of our people, the sweeping majority, are going to want Fidel to continue as president of the Council of State," Prieto said. "I don't know what he would say about the state of his health, and I think it depends a lot on that."

Castro was re-elected to his sixth term as council president by the parliament in March 2003, following direct elections in which 97 percent of Cubans participated.

Castro has not been seen in public since stepping aside and Prieto said he had no new information about the 81-year-old's medical status. But he said the essays Castro has issued every few days over six months "give me the impression that he is in good health and continues recovering favorably."

Speaking to foreign reporters after a book presentation, Prieto also knocked down a month of rumors circulating in Miami's Cuban exile community that the elder Castro is dead or dying. The latest rumors gained steam after Castro's 81st birthday passed on Aug. 13 without the release of any new photographs or videos of the leader.

"I think people are confusing their wishes with reality," said Prieto, the first senior official to comment on the rumors.

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