U.S. Official Predicts Tumult in Cuba

Cubans in Havana show their support for Fidel Castro, who for health reasons passed power to his brother on July 31. Fidel Castro has not appeared since.
Cubans in Havana show their support for Fidel Castro, who for health reasons passed power to his brother on July 31. Fidel Castro has not appeared since. (By Jorge Rey -- Associated Press)
From News Services
Saturday, August 12, 2006

A top State Department official conceded yesterday that the United States does not know much about Fidel Castro's health, but he said Castro's decision to temporarily hand over power to his brother signals "the beginning of political change in Cuba."

"While we might be at a moment of great change, we might also be at a moment of actually the regime hardening as it attempts to assert its control," Thomas A. Shannon Jr., assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, told reporters.

Shannon said Castro's absence from the world stage since the announcement early last week that he was ceding authority to his brother Raul suggests a "serious illness" and an attempt by the Cuban government to carry out a stable transfer of power.

"The lack of visibility, I think, indicates the seriousness of the condition," Shannon said. "But it also indicates, I believe, that an effort has begun to try to coalesce or foster some institutional transfer of power."

But Shannon predicted the regime would have a rocky time outlasting Castro.

"Ultimately, this transfer won't work," he said. "Ultimately, there's no political figure inside of Cuba who matches Fidel Castro."

Shannon's words were the most expansive U.S. government comments on Cuba since the news of Castro's health crisis broke more than a week ago.

Separately, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced new measures to discourage Cubans from trying to slip into the United States. One step is increasing the number of Cubans with family in the United States who are approved for entry.

In addition, the U.S. government said, any Cuban official identified by the United States as a human rights abuser will not be allowed to immigrate to the United States.


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