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Raúl Castro
Fidel Castro's brother has signalled he will take a different approach to leadership if he takes over permanently from the ailing Cuban dictator.

However, Raúl Castro, who has been standing in for his older sibling for the past five months, insisted that Cuba's one party communist system would continue with or without the figurehead that has led it for almost half a century.

"Fidel is irreplaceable and I don't intend to imitate him. Those who imitate fail," Raul Castro, 75, told student federation members during a speech yesterday in Havana.

He did not mention the health of his 80-year-old brother, who has not been seen in public since emergency intestinal surgery forced him to relinquish power at the end of July for the first time since Cuba's 1959 revolution.

There has been widespread speculation that the dictator is gravely ill, perhaps with cancer. However, a group of US politicians visiting Cuba said yesterday they had been told he would return.

"All the officials have told us that his illness is not cancer, nor is it terminal, and he will be back," Arizona congressman, Jeff Flake, the head of the US delegation, said.

Nonetheless, Raúl Castro hinted at a series of changes in approach should he take over, saying he would be more open to debate.

"Sometimes people fear the word 'disagree', but I say the more debate and the more disagreement you have, the better the decisions will be," he told the students.

And in a move that will delight audiences used to sitting through the elder Castro's sometimes interminable speeches - he holds the record for the longest ever address to the UN, a four hour 29 minute marathon - Raúl Castro hinted he would not follow suit.

"From the first moment it was established that I would not be giving all the speeches," he said.

He also practised what he preached, keeping his address to the 800 students brief and littering it with humorous stories from his childhood, such as how he was thrown from a horse after trying to copy a peasant and ride bareback.

Since the younger Castro took over in July, there have already been some small changes, for example newspapers now occasionally publish stories exposing theft and corruption. He is also said to favour relaxing state controls over the economy.

However, he is not thought to harbour ambitions to run the country indefinitely, and is more likely to govern for a few years before handing over to a younger successor.

Source: The Guardian Unlimited


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