HAVANA – Cuba's communist government said it would defend itself against any U.S. attempt to take advantage of Fidel Castro's health crisis as some exiles urged Washington to go further in fostering a democratic transition on the island.
"The people know they have a resource, a weapon, a place to defend the revolution if necessary," Rogelio Polanco, editor of the Communist youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde, said on state television Thursday evening.
"Once again, they shouldn't make a mistake, not to fantasize ... thinking their desires are reality," Polanco said in a public affairs program discussing how exiles celebrated Castro's recent surgery for intestinal bleeding. "They should not mess up and commit the greatest error of all time."
Cuban exiles, meanwhile, welcomed President Bush's rallying of people on the island to push for democracy, but some wanted more.
William Sanchez, an attorney for the Cuban American National Foundation, urged the president to push for an elections timetable and allow Cuban-Americans go to the island by boat to help with a political transition. U.S. policy halts such "flotillas" before they enter Cuban waters.
But there was no sense on the island that anything was going to change.
"The revolution will continue" was the mantra chanted in state media Thursday, three days after Castro temporarily ceded power to his younger brother Raul while recovering from surgery.
The acting president was still nowhere to be seen. Nor was the elder Castro, who turns 80 on Aug. 13. Yet the state news media lined up Cubans to express confidence both in Fidel Castro's ability to recover quickly and in Raul Castro's competence to govern in the meantime.
"Every Cuban trusts Raul, and every one of our leaders," an unnamed woman said on state television's midday broadcast. "We are certain that the revolution will continue."
A U.S. official, however, said Cubans in contact with the American mission in Havana expressed fear and unease as they awaited new developments.
"We are seeing among the Cuban people a real sense that Fidel is never coming back to power — there seems to be a growing consensus in that direction," said Drew Blakeney, U.S. Interests Section spokesman.
There were no new details on the status of Castro's health, or news about where he was convalescing.
Juanita Castro, who lives in Miami and has been estranged from her brother Fidel since 1963, said people in Havana had told her Fidel was released from intensive care Wednesday, but she knew nothing more. "He's very sick, that's it," she said.
Many on the island suspected Fidel Castro was still running the show, an impression supported by the younger Castro's avoidance of the spotlight.
"Initially, I don't think Raul Castro is going to make any decisions on his own without the authorization of his brother," said Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo, a former exile now living in Cuba as a moderate dissident.