Castro brothers trigger extensive debate

He is the world’s longest serving political leader. In 1959, a young revolutionary named Fidel Castro succeeded in forcing then-Cuban president Fulgencio Batista to flee the country.

Initially described as charismatic, attractive and intelligent, Castro appeared to exhibit good qualities as a leader. Even the United States initially welcomed the regime change.

He was praised for standing up for the oppressed of Latin America, for opposing the “Yankee imperialists” and implementing socialism with the aim to promote equality.

In time, the opinions of many changed dramatically regarding the Cuban leader as his regime suppressed dissent and individual liberties.

Though politically strong for so many years, Castro’s health did not maintain the same consistency.

This became most apparent on July 31, when Castro temporarily ceded his power and authority to his brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro.

In an official statement read by spokesperson Carlos Balanciaga on Cuban state-run television, it was announced that Castro had to be taken to the hospital due to internal bleeding, with few other details given. The unexpected news reached every major media outlet in the world within minutes.

This was the first time Castro has turned over power to anyone since he took control of Cuba 47 years ago, causing some to believe he was dead. Analyses, reports and speculations were made for days regarding the future of Cuba in the hands of Raul.

Also during this time, President George W. Bush urged Cubans to work for democratic change.

But Jaime Suchlicki, director for the Institute for Cuba and Cuban-American Studies, said there won’t be major changes in Cuba with Raul in charge, for the moment.

“I don’t think Cuba is going to turn into a China in the short run,” he said. “[Raul] is as tough as or tougher than Castro.”

While the Cuban community in Miami and other Castro opponents from around the world celebrated the news and held onto the notion of Castro’s possible death, a second statement was issued about Castro’s recovery process.

Castro informed Cubans on Aug. 14, his 80th birthday, that he faced a long recovery and said to prepare for “adverse news.” In the statement, Castro also asked Cubans to remain optimistic about the situation.

As details regarding his recovery became public, Cuba’s Communist Youth newspaper published four photographs of Castro wearing what looked like a white and red Adidas running suit.

In both pictures, Castro is talking on the phone and in another he is holding a copy of Granma, the Communist Party newspaper in Cuba. Another daily newspaper later published photographs of a smiling Castro in bed posing with his Venezuelan ally, Hugo Chavez.

Suchlicki said Castro’s possible comeback won’t be as many expect it.

“If he comes back, it’s going to be in a ceremonial fashion,” he said. “I think this is a very quick succession from Castro to Raul.”

But analysts are not the only ones weighing in on the situation.

Daniel Pedreira, president of Jovenes Para Una Cuba Libre (Youth for Free Cuba), said his organization tries to inform people about what is really happening. For instance, the organization is planning several on campus events regarding the issue.

“We don’t think there has been a real change,” Pedreira said. “[Cuba is] not going to open up politically and we want to make people aware of that.”

Pedreira said his organization sends mass emails to opposition leaders in Cuba with limited internet access.

“We once made flyers showing pictures of Raul and explaining how he is no different from Castro,” he said. “When we sent them by email, they told us they had never seen such pictures before.”

Regarding whether or not he believed the rumors of Castro’s death, Pedreira said he was not sure.

“I think it all depends on what happens in terms of news,” he said. “Right now it is hard to know what is true or not.”

According to Pedreira, Raul won’t last as long as his brother due to lack of popular support.

Patricia Rodriguez, a member of Federation for Cuban Students (FEC), said Raul is worse than Castro.

“I think Raul is more of a tyrant and he will probably take things to extremes,” she said.

Stephanie Fojo, president of FEC, said that although the organization is strictly cultural, it supports issues like this one.

“Anything we can do in support of Cuba, we do it in a cultural sense,” Fojo said.

Fojo said it is good to know Castro is no longer is the same authority figure he once was.

“It is somewhat of a relief to see that Castro is diminishing as a political power,” she said.

Acting president Raul told Cubans on Aug. 18 that his brother’s recovery was “satisfactory and gradual.” Raul also said that Havana would be willing to discuss peace with the United States as long as the U.S. does not interfere with Cuba’s sovereignty.

Rodriguez said the news of Castro’s recovery is very upsetting.

“We were so close to being free and now it is really frustrating to see him smiling again,” she said.

Fanny Olmo may be contacted