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Location: Havana, Cuba

is a blog to give a fresh angle on a fascinating and beautiful Caribbean Island country that, despite being relatively small and with only 11 million people, has been a major player in American and world politics for a half century. I also suggest you try www.havanatimes.org

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Will Cuba’s Fidel Castro Seek Reelection?

by Circles Robinson

The process that will determine whether Fidel Castro continues as the President of Cuba gets underway with nationwide municipal elections on October 21, 2007.

It’s election time again in Cuba and whether the revolution’s detractors in Washington and Miami like it or not, the vast majority of the population is expected to go to the polls to select their city council representatives and set the wheels in motion to elect the President, VP and Legislature.

The biggest question abroad, and on many people’s minds at home, is whether the recovering Fidel Castro, who temporarily stepped down from his responsibilities nearly 14 months ago, will once again be a candidate for another 5-year term as president.

During his convalescence, Castro has become a prolific newspaper columnist, sounding like an elder statesman reflecting on current and past world affairs.

To be reelected, Fidel must first win a seat in the Cuban parliament in general elections scheduled for spring 2008.

Once the 609-member legislature is elected by popular vote, they will elect a 31-member Council of State from within their ranks. Then the Council of State chooses the country’s President and VP. This system has been in place since 1976 with reforms made in 1992.

Voting age in Cuba is sixteen and registration is automatic. Balloting is secret and the vote count is open to the public including foreign visitors. Voter turnout has consistently been over 90 percent and despite active campaigns launched from Miami encouraging Cubans to leave their ballots blank or spoil them, in the last two elections only 5.3 (2003) and 5.1 percent (2005) of ballots were invalid.

For a more detailed explanation on the Cuban electoral system see: http://www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk/faqdocs/Cuban-political-system-facts.pdf

FIDEL ON CUBAN TV

The Cuban leader reappeared in a lengthy TV interview broadcast Friday in which he warned of a pending world economic crisis. His nearly two hour meeting with Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos on Saturday reinforced the notion of his recovery.

Seeing an alert and healthier looking 81-year-old Fidel, after a three month absence from the public eye, was uplifting for many Cubans on the island and yet another pitcher of cold water over the heads of his opponents in Miami.

My 92-year-old neighbor, an avid reader, news watcher and radio soap opera fan, says Fidel is like family to her. She was all smiles after seeing him converse with Cuban journalist Randy Alonso. Abuela (grandma), as we call her, says she remembers very well what Cuba was like before the 1959 revolution.

For most Cubans, Fidel’s stature as a world leader and the successes of the revolution far outweigh any tactical errors along the way of governing the nation of 11.2 million people. His intense concern about world affairs and keeping tabs on national matters even during his prolonged convalescence reinforces that recognition.

Nonetheless, many doubt that Fidel will seek reelection, citing his age and prolonged public absence from the day to day business of government. His public role as a senior statesman, foreign affairs expert and private advisor on domestic issues has paved the road for a smooth transition —seen as an attractive alternative to many citizens.

The foreign media speculates at length over possible presidential choices if Fidel Castro were to decline reelection. These include Raul Castro, the nation’s First VP and current acting president; Council of State VP Carlos Lage Davila; Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque; and Parliament Chairman Ricardo Alarcon. The subject is not broached in the local press.

Without seeking a high-profile role during Fidel’s convalescence, Raul Castro has given the nation a glimpse of his leadership style and people are getting used to it. Most are content with his call for increased debate and a focus on domestic issues.

If Fidel’s doctors give him a clean bill of health in the coming months, allowing him to resume all or a good portion of his responsibilities, it would then be the president’s call on what he thinks is best for the country, the driving force of his entire political career.

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