February 19th, 2008
04:34 PM ET

In Cuba, even the sunset may be government-controlled

Several weeks after Fidel Castro fell ill in 2006, I visited to Cuba to report on the summit of non-aligned nations taking place there.


This was an important meeting for Cuba. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iraq was there. So was Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. As was Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and other leaders.

This would be a time for Fidel Castro to triumphantly get out of the hospital, show up at the summit, and make a rousing speech. But it didn't happen.

The Cuban government and people like Chavez vowed he was getting better and he'd be back to his old self soon. Didn't happen.

We went into the Cuban countryside to talk with ordinary Cubans. Many loved Castro; others didn't, but nearly all, after nearly a half century,  couldn't imagine their country without him, and figured he would be back as visible as ever soon.

Well, Castro hasn't been seen out in public since he went to the hospital. And now with his announcement that he is giving up power, many people, particularly Cuban exiles in the U.S. are hoping real change is in the air. 

But there seems to be a reasonable chance we will not see the drama we have long expected with Castro giving up power, because his demise has been so gradual. 

Has it been orchestrated that way to protect the regime? If so, it is a shrewd political move.

If Castro has indeed been the leader of the Communist island in more than name only for the last year and a half, he's been like the Wizard of Oz; never seen by the common people. 

That has never been Castro's style. His fatigues, his beard, and before he quit smoking, his cigar, have been iconic images, seen often during his half-century rule.

It is undoubtedly a shock for many Cubans that he will no longer be the leader.  But the way it's been handled might have less to do with Castro deciding yesterday that he could no longer rule, and more with a regime implementing a long term plan to protect itself.

– Gary Tuchman, 360° Correspondent

Filed under: Fidel Castro • Gary Tuchman
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