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Is the Fate of Cuba Tied to Castro's Illness?

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, Lebanon's national library struggles to preserve its collection.

CHADWICK: First, Cuba is living through its first day in 47 years without Fidel Castro as boss.

Yesterday, the Cuban government announced Fidel is recovering from abdominal surgery and has turned over power to his brother, Raul.

(Soundbite of foreign language spoken)

CHADWICK: There's intense speculation about the future in Cuba, and in the large exile community in Florida. We'll hear from Miami in a moment.

But we begin our coverage with Ann Louise Bardach. She's a journalist and author of Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana.

Annie, welcome back to the program. And what have you heard from inside Cuba?

Ms. ANN LOUISE BARDACH (Author): What I'm hearing is that the surgery - contrary to what has been reported - was not yesterday. The surgery was on the 27th. As you know, he was in Argentina at a summit. He gave a three-hour rousing speech. He was the normal Fidel Castro that we've become accustomed to, but he did return to Havana the worse for wear, and he had the surgery soon after on the 27th is what I was told.

CHADWICK: Let me ask you this - because all we have so far is this announcement from the Cuban government. How do you know what to believe in Cuba?

Ms. BARDACH: Generally speaking, I would say that you have to take the government news and the government press releases with a large grain of salt.

I spoke to somebody who had access to somebody very close to him in the Politburo - a particular person in the Politburo - and they said the surgery was in fact on the 27th.

CHADWICK: What about the questions of succession? I read news reports from Miami that some people in the exile community there think that Fidel's brother, Raul, would actually be worse - that he'd be more harsh.

Ms. BARDACH: That's the traditional thinking about Raul Castro. I personally think that it's possible that Raul Castro would be more pragmatic. There is the idea that he's the bad cop to Fidel Castro being the good cop. I think if you look in the last 10 years of what's happened in Cuba, the parts of the government that have been more hospitable to reform have actually been led by Raul Castro.

Now, he does have another kind of tyrannical side. We have seen this historically, where he's made some very aggressive moves to eliminate his enemies or his brother's enemies. But we've also seen him much more pragmatic, as I said. He's the man who started the farmer's market, and he has talked about admiring the Chinese model for socialism, which is certainly - virtually a capitalist system.

CHADWICK: Do you have any sense that the stability of Cuba would be in some doubt if Fidel is incapacitated?

Ms. BARDACH: I think that this is a huge earthquake for Cubans both in Cuba and in Miami and for U.S. policy. However, this transition has been worked on and fine-tuned now for several years. Castro is very mindful of these issues. He's very concerned about his legacy, and they've had several protocols and plans in place for several years.

I remember four years ago hearing about a plan to make sure that there would not be a coup in the event of his death. And again, as far back as several years ago, it was arranged that his brother would step in. And none of the cabinet ministers or members of the Politburo would take power.

I think that the transition will be more orderly than most people think, but it's still quite an earthquake for Cubans there and Cubans here.

CHADWICK: Ann Louise Bardach is author of Cuba Confidential. She's currently editing a collection of Fidel Castro's letters from prison to be published early next year.

Ann Bardach, thank you for joining us on DAY TO DAY.

Ms. BARDACH: Thank you for having me, Alex. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.