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Castro...s Brother Assumes Power As Cuban President Battles Illness

By Anthony Depalma
and James C. Mckinley Jr.

With the mysterious illness of Fidel Castro this week, attention has turned to his brother, Raul, the new provisional leader of Cuba, a man whose personality is little known to Cubans and who remained out of sight and silent on Wednesday.

As police stepped up patrols in Havana’s poorer neighborhoods, the state run news media released little information about Fidel Castro’s medical condition after abdominal surgery Tuesday or Raul Castro’s whereabouts, deepening uncertainty about the future of the government.

“That is totally consistent with the culture of this government,” said Lisandro Perez, a Cuban-American sociologist at Florida International University. “What is surprising is not that they’re trying to keep this under wraps, but that they made it public in the first place.”

In an interview on public radio in the United States, Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly, said that he had spoken to Fidel Castro for a half-hour on Tuesday after his surgery and found him alert and in good spirits.

“He’s in, I would say, a normal period of recovery after an important surgery,” Alarcon told Democracy Now’s host, Amy Goodman. “But very alive and very alert, as always, very interested in what’s going on around him and around the world.”

Alarcon did not say what illness Castro, 79, was suffering from, though he acknowledged that “it is a serious matter.” Castro had said on Monday that he was ceding power temporarily to his brother and a collective of other high-ranking officials during his recuperation.

Doctors outside Cuba said that Castro could be suffering from several conditions. Possibilities include cancer, intestinal bleeding or an intestinal infection. After such surgery, patients generally have tubes inserted through their nose into the stomach to drain off stomach secretions. Such tubes make it difficult to speak and are unsightly, which would possibly make Castro in his weakened condition reluctant to be seen on camera.

But in the absence of detailed statements from the government, outside observers and Cubans were left to speculate.

What seemed certain, however, was that the long-awaited transition from Fidel Castro to Raul — first laid out 47 years ago — had begun. And so had the concerns about what that new regime would bring.

A constant in Cuba since the earliest days of the uprising more than half a century ago that forced out dictator Fulgencio Batista, Raul Castro is alternatively described by those who know him as ruthless and compassionate, as an executioner and as an executive, as a rigid Communist and a practical manager of economic and security matters.

But one of the most telling aspects of his career is that in the nearly five decades that Raul Castro has lead the Cuban armed forces, there has never been a coup attempt or an uprising of rank and file soldiers against their officers.

That combination of loyalty and stability — extraordinary for a Latin American army — is a reflection of the largely overlooked skills of Castro, 75, and a key to understanding what is likely to happen now that he is in charge.