Dissidents hope Castro’s retirement will spur change

February 20th, 2008 - 4:33 pm ICT by admin  

Havana, Feb 20 (IANS) Cuban dissidents have hailed the retirement of Fidel Castro, who stepped down Tuesday as president after 50 years in power, expressing hope that the new leadership would usher in changes in the communist-ruled island nation, Spain’s EFE news agency reported Wednesday. They said the move would enable Raul Castro - acting president since his older brother fell ill in July 2006 - to carry out promised economic reforms.

Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a former political prisoner, said that the message means “the consolidation of Raul Castro” and that now “there are more possibilities that some kind of process of change can begin, above all in the economic area”.

“It’s a heavy blow to the more immobile elements of the government,” he added, emphasizing that the level Fidel’s influence on decision-making will decline considerably as he distances himself from power.

Miriam Leiva, the co-founder of the Ladies in White, a group comprising relatives of the 75 government opponents jailed in 2003, said: “A new phase is beginning that I hope will lead towards changes and towards democracy.”

She insisted that the first step should be that “they release the dissidents”. She was referring to Cuba’s roughly 225 political prisoners.

The leader of the moderate opposition group Cambio Cubano (Cuban Change), Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, said Fidel Castro’s departure “opens up the prospect of change, if he (Fidel) is not behind the curtain trying to direct everything”.

Gutierrez Menoyo, a Castro comrade-in-arms who later turned an opponent, believes that starting “with economic changes, the political changes should (follow).”

On the other side of the scale is Marta Beatriz Roque, of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, who predicted that Fidel Castro “is going to continue being behind” the government’s decisions.

“He has resigned from the Council of State, but not from the party,” she said, adding that the decision seeks “to legitimise the situation of Raul Castro.”

As hours passed Tuesday after the news of Castro’s resignation was broadcast on TV and radio, the Cuban capital did not appear any different than its normal self, with tourists strolling along the seaside avenue known as the Malecon, people shopping in the local markets and automobiles of 1950s’ vintage carrying their owners to work.

State radio and television did not alter their regular programmes but only repeated intermittently the message from the Cuban leader as if it were one of the normal opinion articles that Castro has been writing and publishing periodically since the end of last March.

Castro, citing his poor health, resigned as Cuba’s president in a letter published Tuesday in official Communist Party daily Granma.

Fidel has not appeared in public since July 26, 2006, just five days before he delegated power temporarily to Raul, 76, so he could focus on recovering from a serious intestinal illness.

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