Posted on Tue, Aug. 08, 2006
CASTRO HEALTH CRISIS
Seize opportunity, Cuba’s activists say
With the future of the government in doubt, Cuban activists took on a
more vocal role, saying the people should grab control of their own fate.
BY NANCY SAN MARTIN
After initial shock and relative silence following the stunning health
crisis of Fidel Castro and temporary ceding of power to his brother,
Cuban activists and government opponents on the island began speaking
out more forcefully Monday, expressing a common assessment: Cuba will
never be the same.
In a statement issued via e-mail, a group of dissidents’ wives known as
the Ladies in White spoke of an ”inner fear” that “can be smelled,
can be felt on the empty streets of Havana, and in cities and towns all
over the country.”
”It’s as if everyone had come to a halt, astonished,” said the
statement written by Miriam Leiva, an activist whose husband was among
75 government opponents jailed during a 2003 crackdown. “We have felt
the surveillance, and sensed the repressive elements preparing to act at
the slightest signal.
”Cuba will never again be the same,” the statement said. “The people
deserve the right to express themselves without fear, to know what’s
happening, to contribute their opinions, to participate in the
decisions, to really be the masters of their fate, to help our homeland
to recover economically and join the international commonwealth.”
IN THE DARK
Similar sentiments were expressed by other Cuban dissidents as the
population remains in the dark over Castro’s health and whether the
temporary assumption of power by his brother Raúl will be permanent.
Castro, who turns 80 on Sunday, and his 75-year-old brother have
remained out of public view since the July 31 announcement.
In an interview with The Associated Press, prominent human rights
activist Oswaldo Payá said that the Cuban leader’s illness has exposed a
one-ruler system and forced the population to face the possibility of a
Cuba without Castro.
”This temporary absence has made people confront the real possibility
of a new Cuba,” Payá told the AP. “No one can claim that we’ll be able
to keep living in the same way. . . . This should be a moment of peace,
of serenity. The time has come to really put our heads together.”
As Castro opponents appealed for inclusion, supporters from around the
world urged the United States to stay out of Cuban affairs.
A letter urging the United States not to intervene — signed by 400
prominent left-leaning figures, such as former Archbishop Desmond Tutu
of South Africa and activist Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala — was
released in Havana on Monday.
The Bush administration has said it has no plans for an invasion.
National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón warned that if there were an
intervention attempt on the island by the United States, “it’s going to
become a hell for them from the first day.”
”We will guarantee them total failure once again,” Alarcón added in an
interview from Havana with Telesur, a Venezuela-based television
station, in a reference to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
He also said the Cuban population must trust Castro “in his discipline
to rest now that he has to do it, to get better as soon as possible.”
Roberto Fernández Retamar, a well-known Cuban writer and a member of the
Council of State, said: “In a few months, we’ll have [Castro] back with
Since the health crisis was announced, Havana has promoted a sense of
normalcy and political stability, an image Retamar also tried to reinforce.
”Fidel is not at the helm of Cuba and there has been no chaos to
overpower the Cuban people,” Retamar said. “This has produced a
In Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, Castro was compared to a
caguairan, a tropical hardwood tree known in other parts of Latin
America as a quebracho. The tree, known for its resistance and found in
the eastern part of the island where Castro was born, ”is
incorruptible, compact, of extraordinary hardness,” the newspaper said.
Miami Herald translator Renato Pérez contributed to this report.