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Raúl Castro gives signals that Cuba will change

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Raúl Castro gives signals that Cuba will change

Post by shammy on Wed Feb 27, 2008 9:57 am

27th February, 2008

HAVANA: In his first public act as president, Raúl Castro met Tuesday not with leftist Latin American leaders like President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, nor with Chinese officials, but with the Vatican's secretary of state, the emissary of a traditional enemy of communism and a critic of Cuba's record on human rights.

Most Cubans seem unwilling to believe it yet, but there are reasons to think a turning point has come to the island, and Raúl Castro plans to chart a different course for the communist state than his older brother, Fidel.

Raúl Castro's willingness in his first international meeting to embrace the Vatican's top diplomat, Cardinal Tarscisio Bertone, a possible go-between with the United States and Europe, fits with his pragmatic, no-nonsense style.

It is just one of many signs the newly appointed 76-year-old president has given that he will be a more practical leader than his more doctrinaire and romantic brother, who ran this country for 49 years as if it were his own business, signing off on almost every government decision.

Raúl Castro has said the government needs to shrink. He has promised "structural changes" and "big decisions" in the near future. "We have to make our government's management more efficient," he said Sunday, adding, "We have to plan well and we cannot spend more than we have."

The younger Castro's decision on Sunday to put two of his closest friends in the key positions of vice president and defense minister also suggest he has control of the government, even though he has promised to consult Fidel Castro on important matters.

Yet many Cubans do not seem to believe a change has come. Some think Fidel Castro will continue to rule from behind the scenes. Others see little ideological difference between the ex-president and his brother. Still others think the centralized bureaucratic apparatus of the state is too rusty and large to be overhauled.

A young man stood in Havana's central park Monday, scanning the faces of the new government leaders, his own face scrunched up in puzzled concentration. When a reporter asked him what he thought of the new president, he muttered "it's good," rattled the paper shut and marched quickly away, casting a furtive glance at a nearby police officer.

"Everyone is afraid to talk," said a student sitting on a park bench nearby who identified himself only as Alejandro. "This is the time when the people should go to the street, but they are afraid. My country is like a prison."

A few blocks away José, a shop attendant in his 30s, was waiting in line outside a post office in Old Havana to send an e-mail to a family friend through a secure Internet connection that allows no contact with the outside world.

"There was no change," he said, echoing the views of others. "Look, if you paint this tile here and you paint it with the same color, there is no change. The brothers think alike."


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