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Posted on Tuesday, 03.22.11

Mixed reaction from Cuban-Americans on Castro news
AP Hispanic Affairs Writer

MIAMI — Cuban-Americans were mixed in their reaction Tuesday to Fidel
Castro's surprise announcement that he hasn't been the head of Cuba's
Communist Party in five years.

Most viewed it as an attempt to add legitimacy to Castro's younger
brother Raul, who is set to lead the Party Congress next month as it
takes the historic step of ratifying some of the country's biggest
economic reforms since the early days of the revolution.

Others viewed it as an effort to preserve Castro's own legacy in the
face of change, as well as a reminder of how tightly power is held in
the small Caribbean island.

Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, said he and other
scholars may have underestimated 's influence in recent years.

“This is a symbolic endorsement of his brother's leadership. The shadow
of Fidel has been removed symbolically and otherwise,” he said,
cautioning, “If this revolution good or bad is going to survive, it
needs to go the next step, and the next step is without Fidel – and then
past Raul.”

Castro, 84, wrote Tuesday in his newspaper column that he has not headed
the Communist Party since he became seriously ill in August 2006 and
delegated power to his brother. Castro wrote that he immediately
resigned from his state and political posts then and “never tried to
exercise those roles again.”

Tomas Bilbao, executive director of the Washington-based non-profit Cuba
Study Group, which supports increasing economic and academic interaction
with the island to help Cubans become more independent of their
government, agreed the move gives Raul Castro more legitimacy.

“It's a big boost in credibility for Raul and the reforms he's trying to
push,” said Bilbao.

Others viewed the announcement as more about protecting his

“Fidel is reserving his credibility and authority with the Cuban people
in case things go wrong at the CCP congress or later on with the
announced “reforms” of his brother Raul. Fidel has always taken credit
for the victories and blame someone else for the defeats,” said Pepe
Hernandez, head of the Cuban American National Foundation, once the most
the powerful, hardline Cuban organizations, which in recent years
has supported limited exchanges with the island.

Those who back the decades-old embargo of Cuba were most critical of the
announcement, saying it served only to highlight the Cuban government's
lack of transparency, since until Tuesday most of the world still
believed Castro had retained his title as party head.

“These are totalitarian dictatorships, and the titles don't matter. The
power is still held by the Castro brothers, whether the name is Fidel or
Raul,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC.

Castro's comments come just weeks ahead of a crucial Communist Party
Congress. The Congress is tasked with endorsing a series of major
economic changes Raul Castro has enacted since taking over the
presidency, including opening the island up to limited private
enterprise. It was widely suspected that he would also be elected as the
new head of the party.
Associated Press writers Paul Haven and Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana
contributed to this report.”


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