One Castro for Another

This is a rush transcript from "The Big Story With John Gibson and Heather Nauert," February 19, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: GIBSON: Many Cubans have died trying to reach our shores to taste freedom. Will their dreams soon be realized by their living loved ones?

With us now is a Telemundo anchor, Jose Diaz-Balart, his aunt was Castro's first wife; and Cuban-American journalist, Maria Elvira Salazar, host of "Maria Elvira Live", a Spanish speaking television show. Let me first go to you, Jose. So, this whole business of Castro resigning and Raul taking over, does that mean a lot in terms of change for Cuba?

JOSE DIAZ-BALART, AUNT WAS CASTROS' FIRST WIFE: It's a total joke, John. For the past 16 months, Raul Castro has been firmly in power and for years before that, he was the de facto leader of that country while Fidel is really the figurehead. And you know, you have a totalitarian dictatorship there that is run by Fidel Castro for 49 years. And while he's alive and his brother, 76 years old, is still alive, you can expect no change out of Cuba. They haven't changed in 49 years. Do you think that at the end of their lives, all of a sudden, some kind of apparition is going to tell them that it's time to hold elections or to free dissidents or to free political prisoners? Absolutely not. There's no change. These two guys you're seeing on your screen right now are pretty much part and parcel of the problem. When they're gone, there is faith and hope for Cuba in the future. Until they're gone, no change.

GIBSON: Maria, there is a notion, not that I don't believe Jose, but that maybe there will be a Chinese communist kind of model taking over in Cuba in which the dictatorship continues but economic freedom is loosened up a little bit. Any chance of that, in your view?

MARIA ELVIRA SALAZAR, CUBAN-AMERICAN JOURNALIST: I tend to agree with what Jose is saying. I think that the Castro brothers, they have been in power and that's their business. But I also believe that Raul knows that he is not his brother, that he doesn't have the charisma that Fidel has had, that he has generals around him demanding for changes. People want to consume. They want to live. They want to eat three times a day, which they don't do right now. They want to travel freely, and then that is the big question — will Raul understand that, and will want to impose his mark on history? And now that he has the power officially in his hands, will he open up economically? What I mean by opening up, meaning allowing the average Cuban to open up a little beauty parlor or allowing the average lady to be able travel freely to Miami? That's where we need to see if Raul is going to be willing to do that, not because he wants to, but because the generals around him will push him to do that because people want to live better than they're living right now. But obviously, they are in the business of power, and there is no indication that will tell you that they are willing to open up politically, but economically, probably, yes.

NAUERT: OK. Well, Jose, what about that? What kind of small economic changes do you think that the average Cuban may see?

DIAZ-BALART: Look, the average Cuban wants to live in freedom. The average Cuban wants to be able to travel. The average Cuban wants to see his children grow up in a country where they're not told what to do, what to think and where to go. That's what they're looking for. And when we shift from that and talking about possible economic -

NAUERT: But what do you think that he might be willing to do to sort of embrace what some of the Cubans want?

DIAZ-BALART: Look, it's all up to him, because they have a dictatorship that is run by them, for them and give no oxygen to anybody else. Maria Elvira said something very interesting. There are generals around Raul Castro that want change. There have been generals around the Castro brothers that have wanted change. You know, what they're doing right now? They're pushing daisies. They're underground. They're in tombs.

SALAZAR: Yes, but you also have to understand, Jose, you have to understand that those generals have a lot of influence on Raul. Those generals know, as well as he knows that he doesn't have the charisma or he doesn't have the place in history that his brother has had up to now. So, the big question is: Will he allow small changes? Your question is what are the changes? A small body shop, a small business, a small cafeteria with 12 chairs and to be able to sell things.


DIAZ-BALART: And I think that you know that they premitted that under Castro when the Soviet Union fell.

SALAZAR: Probably, they will but you know something, that's the way they buy time.

DIAZ-BALART: But Maria, they tried doing that when the Soviet Union fell and when Castro saw they were successful, they closed it down.


SALAZAR: They will buy time, Jose. Yes, but he understands that he cannot keep it as closed as Fidel has had it. So, what he is going to do with a Chinese model, exactly what they're saying, the Chinese models allow people to eat three times a day, which the Cubans are not eating three times a day right. They're eating once and not very well. You know that. So, what is the average Cuban going to see? Oh, look, I'm having some more changes here, and then -

GIBSON: I got to run now. Jose Diaz-Balart and Maria Elvira Salazar, thanks to you. We'll see how this works out. Appreciate it, both of you.


SALAZAR: Freedom and liberty, that's what we want.

NAUERT: Always very passionate.

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