HAVANA – Fidel Castro still appeared to be running the show in Cuba on Wednesday after undergoing abdominal surgery and naming his brother acting president, while police and civilian groups patrolled neighborhoods that have seen civil disturbances in the past.
Raul Castro remained out of public view two days after the temporary leadership change was announced, and the state news media's focus remained solely on the elder Castro and his recovery, creating uncertainty about who was really in charge.
"The revolution will continue while Fidel recovers," proclaimed Juventud Rebelde, the Communist youth newspaper. "Fidel, get well," read a front-page headline in the Communist Party daily Granma.
Parliament Speaker Ricardo Alarcon told the New York-based independent radio show Democracy Now! on Wednesday that Castro was "very alive and very alert" when the men spoke the previous day. Other than that, there was no new information about Castro's health. State television has broadcast no new images of either brother since the handover was announced.
It was unclear why Raul Castro hadn't been shown. While the elder Castro could be reluctant to relinquish power after his 47-year rule — even temporarily — to the brother he reportedly trusts more than anyone, state media also could be focusing solely on him out of respect and habit. Raul, who has long deferred to his elder brother, could be keeping a low profile for the same reasons.
The latest statement attributed to Castro was issued Tuesday night in an effort to assure the Cuban people all was well. It said his health was stable and the island was safe from potential attack.
Even so, there appeared to be an increase in police patrols in some working-class neighborhoods and in coastal areas that have seen civil disturbances in the past, such as during running power blackouts in the summer of 2005.
The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the government's neighborhood watch groups, stepped up volunteer night patrols. Rapid Action Brigades, pro-government civilian groups used in the past to handle civil disturbances, were placed on standby.
Many Castro supporters expressed confidence Wednesday that the island's Communist system would remain intact no matter what happens to the only ruler most Cubans have ever known.
"Either way, the revolution has to keep going," said retiree Santos Perez. "Fidel is a leader, but there are many leaders here, like his brother."
In Washington, Republican senators began drafting legislation to implement a plan by the administration of President George W. Bush to give $80 million over two years to Cuban dissidents fighting for democratic change.
One Republican senator, Robert Bennett, said Bush told him the administration was caught off-guard by Castro's illness. "I think all of us can say we had no idea this was coming," he said.
He didn't elaborate, but the remarks underscored the scanty reliable intelligence the U.S. has on its Cold War foe just 90 miles from Florida.
Commander Jeff Carter of the U.S. Coast Guard, which patrols the water between Cuba and Florida, said there was no sign that Cubans were heading en masse to the United States. "We're not seeing anything — nor are we seeing any going the other direction, from Florida," he said.
Gleeful celebrations broke out in Florida, where hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles live, when Castro's illness was announced — demonstrations Alarcon described as "vomit-provoking." Cubans expressed outrage Wednesday that people would celebrate an old man's infirmity.
"That's what you can expect from the type of trash that lives in the United States and cares nothing about this country," Havana housewife Oralis Delgado said.