Perks Show a Post-Fidel Touch
By Anita Snow, Associated
Interim Ruler Raul Castro
Takes Small Steps to Improve Cubans' Lives,
but Are They Enough?
HAVANA, 14 sep (AP) -- With Raul Castro
in charge, Cuba has raised payments to milk
and meat producers, is paying off its debts
to farmers and has stopped blocking the
import of parts needed to keep vintage cars
Travelers can even bring in DVD players
and game consoles, highly coveted by Cubans
starved for high-tech entertainment.
Raul's ailing brother Fidel is still showing
leadership behind the scenes, and as provisional
president, he has only taken small steps.
But he's already giving clues to how he
might govern once he takes full control
-- paying special attention to quality-of-life
problems, publicly scolding state managers
and bluntly acknowledging that salaries
don't cover basic needs.
The new Chinese buses on intercity routes
are evidence of the Raul effect. They were
in the planning before Fidel got sick, but
they have become much more visible since
Raul gave a speech late last year saying
he was sick of hearing bureaucrats' excuses
and wanted results.
To boost food production, lawmakers agreed
in June to pay producers 2 1/2 times more
for milk and meat included in the island's
heavily subsidized ration program and in
meals provided at similarly low-cost workplace
cafeterias, schools, hospitals and community
centers. The prices consumers pay will remain
At the same gathering National Assembly
members were told that the state had just
paid off debts worth $23 million to the
small farmers and cooperatives that grow
two-thirds of the island's fruits and vegetables,
and renegotiated $35 million in other debts.
The change is evident in style too. Where
a Fidel speech could devote hours to communist,
his brother's oratory is much more short
and direct, and Cubans love his public attacks
on government failures.
But 76-year-old Raul is only a caretaker
president, and officials insist that 81-year-old
Fidel will be back. And as long as Fidel
is alive, no one thinks Raul will dare to
make big moves that could annoy the older
brother he has loved and admired since they
Thomas Fingar, the U.S. Deputy Director
of National Intelligence, told the U.S.
Congress in June that while the Cuban public
has high expectations of improvement, "Significant,
positive political change is unlikely immediately."
As caretaker president, Raul has "very
limited running room," said Cuba analyst
Phil Peters, of the pro-democracy Lexington
Institute think tank outside Washington.
"He seems to be looking for small practical
things that can make Cubans' lives easier."
Cuban exiles in Miami are consumed with
rumors that Fidel is dying or dead. But
Cubans on the island rarely mention him
nowadays -- they're already more focused
on what Raul, Fidel's constitutionally designated
successor, will do.
They were pleased to hear him confirm on
television that state salaries fail to cover
basic necessities, and some even cheered
when Raul delivered a slap at inefficient
state managers by commenting sardonically
about government farms infested with a fast-growing,
thorny bush called marabu.
They nodded knowingly as Raul publicly
questioned why all Cubans aren't guaranteed
milk in their monthly food rations, not
just children under 7. They also noticed
that the milk comment was dropped from the
official transcript of the televised speech.
On a personal level, Cubans were moved
to see Raul appearing to choke back a sob
after kissing an urn containing his wife's
ashes at her state-televised funeral in
June. The cameras also showed a vault next
to Espin's that already bears Raul's name
-- an unusual acknowledgment of a Cuban
leader's mortality in a country where talk
of Fidel's death has always been taboo.
Cubans have never had such a personal glimpse
of Fidel, who does not appear in public
with his family, and they don't know where
or how his funeral will take place.
Authorities insist the brothers are united,
and bristle at suggestions Raul is more
open to change than his brother. They note
that Fidel also hinted at reforms in November
2005, when he acknowledged that if government
corruption and inefficiency are not controlled,
"this revolution can destroy itself."
Dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe
wrote in an essay e-mailed to international
media that he suspects government hard-liners
are worrying that possible changes could
undermine their legitimacy. He also noted
that just five days after Raul said he would
be open to discussing improved relations
with a new U.S. president, Fidel wrote that
the United States -- "the empire"
-- would never negotiate with Cuba.
In the past, Raul expressed interest in
China's model of a market economy in a one-party
state. But Vice President Carlos Lage says
Cuba won't copy that model.
"The countries now working to build
socialism in different parts of the world,"
Lage said, "are doing so in situations
very different politically and economically
Thompson: Clinton made issue of remark
By Brendan Farrington, Associated
Press Writer, September 14, 2007.
MIAMI - Republican presidential candidate
Fred Thompson blamed Democratic rival Hillary
Rodham Clinton on Friday for the publicity
surrounding his remark suggesting Cuban
immigrants are bringing suitcase bombs to
the United States.
When asked by Florida's WTVJ about the
perception in the Cuban-American community
about his comments, Thompson replied, "I
think that was a Hillary Clinton news release
that she put out or a statement that she
made trying to capitalize on something when
she knew better."
During a trip to South Carolina in June,
Thompson was talking about illegal immigration
from Cuba and elsewhere and said, "I
don't imagine they're coming here to bring
greetings from Castro. We're living in the
era of the suitcase bomb."
A day later, he posted an explanation on
his Web site, saying he was referring to
Cuban spies, not immigrants. Nevertheless,
Democrats, including Clinton, assailed him
for not understanding Cuban-Americans.
The Clinton campaign didn't immediately
respond to a request for comment.
On Friday, Thompson said, "Castro
is a state sponsor of terrorism. Our own
State Department has said that. Any state
sponsor of terrorism should not be allowed
to send people across the Mexican border
into our country illegally. It's just that
Earlier, Radio Mambi programming director
Armando Perez-Roura told Thompson that candidates
come to Miami's Little Havana, drink Cuban
coffee at the Versailles restaurant and
declare their support for a free Cuba. Yet
little has changed in Cuba under President
Fidel Castro. He asked how Thompson can
show he'll do more than just provide rhetoric.
Thompson replied that he was a friend of
Cuban-Americans during his eight years as
a Tennessee senator and visited the region.
"I understand the price that you have
paid. I know your leaders. One of the things
that I would do is stay in close contact
with your leaders and especially those in
Florida," Thompson said. "The
first thing that any president would have
to do is recognize the reality. And in this
case it's the reality of the fact that Castro
is a dictator and he suppresses his own
But he offered no specifics on how he would
change Cuban policy. Then he left the studio,
went to Versailles, posed with a cup of
Cuban coffee for television cameras and
promised during a 20-minute speech to maintain
the Cuban embargo.
The former "Law & Order"
actor also said he would increase radio
and television broadcasts to the communist
island and try to educate the rest of the
world about Castro.
Thompson also reaffirmed his pro-gun rights
stance when asked about a man who used an
AK-47 assault rifle to shoot four Miami-Dade
County police officers Thursday, killing
one. He said an assault weapon ban isn't
"We'll never be able to keep people
like that from getting their hands on weapons
and it does not result in a good thing to
disarm law abiding Americans," Thompson
At a later stop, Thompson addressed more
than 500 people in Cape Coral, a southwest
Florida city on the Gulf of Mexico. He talked
about the need for energy independence,
and after the speech said he would consider
oil drilling in the eastern Gulf as long
as it was environmental safe and was respectful
of people in the region.
"We've got to use all the resources
that are available to us," he said.