Cuba’s future sans Castro is a question

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 9, 2006

We had been discussing the pros and cons of the Fidel Castro’sCuba when I poised a question about the future of the socialistisland nation after Castro. Without a pause the young Cubanjournalist responded, “His (Castro’s) mother lived to an old ageand so will he because he has good genes… besides we haveexcellent medical care here in Cuba.”

My conversation with the Cuban newswoman was during a 2001reception in Havana, Cuba, I was attending as part of a delegationof American journalists visiting the country.

The frankness and naivete of her answer has intrigued me eversince – thus is the depth in the belief of followers of thecharismatic revolutionary leader who over took Cuba in 1959. Thustoo, is the realization of his followers that a good successionplan does not exist. After some 47 years of reign, the Cubangovernment announced last week that for health reasons, Castro wastemporarily turning the reins of power over to his brother Raul.Speculation of his impending death drove excited Cuban-Americans tothe streets in Miami last week and fueled news coverage the rest ofthe week.

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Friday I posed a similar question to a friend with deep Cubanties. The father of local physician Dr. Ray Montalvo, Ray MontalvoSr. has personally felt the wrath of the Cuban dictator.

He fled Cuba in 1959, just footsteps ahead of Castro’s marchinto Havana, only to return in 1961 as part of the ill-fated Bay ofPigs invasion. It was only through diplomatic negotiations thatsaved Mr. Montalvo and others in his group from a death sentenceimposed by Castro – a death sentence Mr. Montalvo says stillstands.

“I think there will be an uprising, for Raul will never beaccepted,” Montalvo told me Friday morning. “He is a dangerous andcold-blooded man.”

Asked if he shared in the joyous celebrations being held inMiami by Cuban-Americans, he could only laugh.

“If only so many had poured out in the streets of Cuba in 1961,our effort might have succeeded,” he said.

The events of the past week are historic in that Castro is thelast of the Cold War era dictators. Castro’s regime has been thebane of existence for the American government since 1959 and tothis day, an economic embargo continues along with tight controlsby the U.S. government on who can visit Cuba.

While some trade restrictions have been lifted in recent years,the Bush administration has kept a tight grip on the Castro regimehoping to finally smoke out Castro. The events of the past weekshow that time is on the U.S. side.

Having walked the streets of Havana and traveled thecountryside, I wonder what lies ahead for Cuba and the Cubanpeople.

Theirs is a beautiful country almost untouched by thecommercialism we know in this country. A 1950’s time-warp would bean appropriate description.

While the country is rife in what Americans would considerpoverty, many Cubans consider theirs a good standard of living thatincludes free health care, free education and free housing.

Post-Castro, that all could very well change as the economy isin shambles. The only thing holding the socialist country togetheris Castro’s charisma.

Thinking back on my conversation with the Cuban journalist in2001, I wonder what her current thoughts are about Cuba’s future?Mr. Montalvo says he looks forward to hopefully being able toreturn one day – for he wants to show his children the Cuba he onceknew – 47 years ago.

Should he get the chance, amazingly, much of it will probablylook very much the same it did the day he left.

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS 39602,or send e-mail to