Apparently Castro's brother is even more radical than he, but only five years younger (Fidel 80, Raúl 75).
A free market revolution in Cuba… now that would be something. 47 years is a long time to stagnate.

– Justice

Fidel Castro to Undergo Surgery; Brother Temporarily Leads Cuba

By JOSÉ DE CÓRDOBA in Miami and DAVID LUHNOW and JOHN LYONS in Mexico City
August 1, 2006; Page A4

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro temporarily handed over power to his younger brother Raúl yesterday in order to undergo surgery for intestinal bleeding, according to officials in Havana.

The aging leader's secretary, Carlos Valenciaga, read a statement from the leader on television that said he was suffering from "a sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding that obligates me to undergo a complicated surgical procedure." He added that he would need "several weeks" of rest. Mexico's Cuban embassy confirmed the statement.

Mr. Castro turns 80 on Aug. 13. His health has been steadily deteriorating in the past years, and it has long been suspected that he is suffering from Parkinson's disease. The gastrointestinal bleeding was due to stress from recent public appearances in Argentina and Cuba, according to the statement.

The seriousness of the illness is hard to know, but analysts said Mr. Castro wouldn't have relinquished power, even temporarily, without him being in serious condition.

"Transferring power means that he really can't govern, and that he may be thinking that he may not recover," said Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank on hemispheric affairs. "I am sure that Raúl would not take the position of power unless Fidel were actually very ill."

Even a temporary transfer gives a blueprint of how the Castro regime plans to handle an inevitable transition. Raúl, 75, has long been his older brother's right-hand man and is his designated successor according to Cuba's constitution. As the island's defense minister, the younger brother would command loyalty in the army in the case of any uprising due to the death of the revolutionary leader, who came to power on Jan. 1, 1959.

Several U.S. State Department officials said they had no independent confirmation of the turn of events in Havana. But the U.S. has been planning for years for an eventual turnover of power in Cuba, which lies just 90 miles south of Florida, home to millions of Cubans who fled the Communist regime.

The Bush administration has put together two separate planning documents in the past several years, meant to guide the island on a path to democracy. The administration looks beyond a government ruled by Mr. Castro's brother to one governed by forces willing to hold free elections. The assumption had been that Mr. Castro would die in office before a transition of any kind would begin.

While the U.S. has mulled the consequences of Mr. Castro's death for years, there has been a much more active discussion of an eventual transition on the island nation itself in the past year, according to Mr. Hakim. "This may be a test run [by Castro] to see how the governing council works," Mr. Hakim said.

Raúl Castro lacks Fidel's charismatic hold on the population. As a youth, Raúl was a dogmatic, committed communist, which Fidel never was. Today, Raúl is considered to be somewhat of a pragmatic reformer and more ideologically flexible. Lacking in Fidel's public appeal, he would have to rely on the military's loyalty and Cubans' fear of the secret police — rather than affection or awe — to retain power.

Fidel Castro, who quickly became an icon of the Latin American left, rose to power after an armed revolution toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista. Ironically, Washington recognized the new government quickly. But within the first 18 months of the revolution it was clear Mr. Castro was embracing communism and Moscow rather than Washington, which eventually slapped an economic embargo against Cuba.

News of the temporary transfer of power spread quickly throughout Miami. "This is a clear reminder that the end of the Castro regime is approaching, and that the only solution is free elections and the rule of law," U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Outside the  famed Cuban restaurant Versailles in Little Havana, a crowd gathered late last night. People on the side of the street waved Cuban flags, cheered,  danced and hugged as drivers honked their horns, the wire service reported.