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Experts Doubt Castro Will Step Aside, Despite Pledge Not to Block Young Leaders


Speculation continues over what Cuban leader Fidel Castro's intentions may be following his cryptic message earlier this week about his future role. The ailing communist ruler says he wants to remain consequential until the end of his life, but at the same time will not block the rise of younger leaders. As VOA's Bill Rodgers reports, Cuba watchers have been busy analyzing his latest message.

Cubans are still pondering their long-time ruler's message, which came in a letter read on a state-run television program.

In the letter, Mr. Castro said he does not intend to cling to positions nor block the rise of younger people. But he said he wants to remain "of consequence" until the end of his life.

The message is open to various interpretations. Cuba watcher Ian Vasquez of the Cato Institute in Washington doubts Mr. Castro plans to step aside. "I think it would be unrealistic to expect that a person who has played the key role in Cuban history over the past nearly fifty years would declare that he is going to be going away and would be removing himself," he said.

The 81-year-old Cuban leader has not been seen in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery nearly 17 months ago. In his absence, his younger brother Raul has been acting as the country's provisional president.

But having Raul continue in this role may not be what the elder Mr. Castro had in mind when his message mentioned younger people, according to professor Andy Gomez at the University of Miami. "When Fidel is talking about Cuba's youth, he is not talking about Raul Castro. I think he is mostly talking about a step below and possibly civilians." Gomez points to Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque as someone from the younger generation who could be tipped for a leadership role.

But having ruled Cuba since sweeping into power in 1959, analysts say Mr. Castro seems reluctant to leave the scene altogether. Ian Vasquez adds, "It's possible that new leadership roles will be filled by a younger generation. But it's hard to imagine any of the big decisions will not continue to be made by Castro in a role that might be unofficial, in the way that say, Deng Xiaoping played a role in China as the paramount leader even though he didn't really have an official government role."

Despite all the speculation generated by Mr. Castro's message, U.S. officials -- such as State Department spokesman Tom Casey -- are downplaying its significance. "These comments, we've seen Fidel Castro make similar ones in the past. What we unfortunately haven't seen then, or now, is an agreement by the Castro regime to allow the Cuban people to choose their leaders in free and fair elections," said Mr. Casey at a press briefing.

And so far there is not even a hint of free elections suggested in any message Cubans are reading from Fidel Castro.