Dissidents take wait-and-see attitude

August 1, 2006

Miami Herald- Frances Robles

The 1950s-era Fords are sputtering along and the two-humped buses known as camels are packed as usual.

A day after Cuban leader Fidel Castro announced he was undergoing surgery because of intestinal bleeding and 'provisionally' ceded power to his brother Raúl, Cubans went to work. While Cuban Americans danced in the streets and honked their car horns in hopeful jubilation, Cubans in Havana waited for buses, waited in lines and, most of all, waited for news.

'I took a walk last night to see what the mood was like, and I didn't see any signs of anything,' leading government opponent Vladimiro Roca said by phone from Havana. ``Cubans are very detached during those kinds of things.'

Cuban media today have limited themselves to repeating Castro's proclamation. No additional information has been offered, but a Round Table news show is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Absent any insight into the story behind the story, Cubans -- even those active in the civil dissident movement -- were reserved in their reaction.

'What we have right now is a signed proclamation of Fidel Castro's. There can be any trick at all behind that,' Roca said.

His theory?

'The scenario I believe is that they raise expectations of a very serious condition, when it can be anything that affects a person of the age of 80,' he said. ``Remember we are dealing with Superman here, so they can create the legend that he recovered quickly. It's to create and maintain the myth of Fidel Castro.'

Laura Pollán, a member of the group Ladies in White -- mothers and wives of political prisoners -- said she too is reserving judgment until there are more answers. For all she knows, she said, Castro is already dead.

'We Ladies in White are peaceful people full of pain who love life and God. We don't wish death on anyone, not even Doctor Castro who has caused us so much suffering,' she said. ``I think he has to be in very, very grave condition for him to do this. A person with a strong personality like that doesn't do things like this.'

But she worried that instead of being a harbinger of change, Castro's illness could complicate the lives of the 300-plus political prisoners in Cuban jails.

Many experts fear the government will conduct massive roundups of political opponents the day Castro dies. In 2003 a nationwide roundup cost 75 dissidents their freedom.

'This can be a good thing, but who knows -- it could be worse,' she said.

Her husband, journalist Hector Masedo, is serving a 20-year prison sentence.

'I don't think it can get worse,' said Jorge Gómez, whose brother René was arrested last year and accused of disturbing the peace at a rally outside the French embassy, which René did not even attend.

``Things bring a possibility of change, but I'll be honest with you -- don't have any great hopes in that respect.'

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