'No upheaval' likely from Castro death


Cuban exiles may be eagerly awaiting the death of Fidel Castro, but US diplomats in Havana do not expect the revolutionary icon’s passing to generate any immediate unrest on the communist-run island, or even an upsurge in people seeking to leave, according to a newly released diplomatic cable.

Another cable from late last year reveals that Castro’s brother Raul expressed an interest in opening a direct dialogue with the White House, but was apparently told any dealings should be conducted through normal diplomatic channels.

The January 2009 dispatch on Castro’s health was sent from the US Interests Section and classified as “secret”. It said Cubans’ “generally conservative nature after 50 years of repression, combined with still significant admiration for Fidel personally, argue against short-term disturbances”.

The cable, released by WikiLeaks and posted online by the Spanish newspaper El Pais, was apparently written by Jonathan Farrar, the top US diplomat on the island. Washington maintains the Interests Section instead of an embassy because the two Cold War enemies have no formal diplomatic relations. Mr Farrar is referred to as chief of mission, not ambassador.

In the cable, Mr Farrar said he expected the Cuban government to carefully manage the announcement of Fidel Castro’s death to make sure islanders understand that his brother Raul is still in charge. Raul took over the presidency from an ailing Fidel — first temporarily, then permanently — in 2006.

The two brothers have led Cuba since they ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, with Raul serving as the head of the armed forces before taking over the top spot.

“GOC (Government of Cuba) officials would most likely manage the death

announcement and subsequent funeral arrangements, etc, in great detail with a view toward putting the best face on the situation, both domestically and to the world,” the cable reads. “Utmost care will be given to ensuring that the Cuban public understands that Raul and the rest of the GOC remain in firm control.”

Mr Farrar speculated that Fidel’s death could even cause a drop in the number of Cubans seeking to emigrate, as islanders wait to see what unfolds.

Far from dying, the 84-year-old Fidel has had something of a resurgence since the cable was written — particularly in recent months.

In 2009, Castro weighed in on international issues more than 100 times in frequent opinion pieces called “Reflections” that were published in state-media. In July this year, he emerged from four years of seclusion, and now makes almost weekly appearances, looking old but mentally sharp.

Two cables from December 2009 reveal an apparently failed effort by Raul Castro to open a new channel for dialogue with the US. The first, signed by Mr Farrar on December 5th, 2009, after a meeting with the Spanish ambassador to Cuba, outlines an offer apparently made by Raul Castro through then Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos to open direct talks with the White House.

“Only via such a political channel would the GOC be able to make major moves toward meeting US concerns,” the cable said, quoting the Spanish ambassador.

In response, Mr Farrar wrote that he ran through a list of diplomatic overtures the US had already made toward Cuba, and suggested that rather than a backdoor dialogue, Castro “should engage seriously through the existing channels”.

A subsequent cable from last December 18th, following Mr Moratinos’ meeting with secretary of state Hillary Clinton, said the diplomat offered the services of Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in arranging such a dialogue between Raul Castro and the White House.

The cable does not contain Ms Clinton’s response, though there is no indication anything came of the Cuban overture, and relations between the two countries have worsened over the course of the year.