MIAMI (CBS4) – In Havana Friday, Raul Castro wrapped his arms around Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, the two signed an aid deal, and then Castro told reporters he might retire early from the Cuban Presidency.
Castro said he’s about to turn 82 and added, “I have the right to retire, don’t you think?”
Reporters weren’t sure what to think of the surprising statement that came as Castro is scheduled to be sworn in to another five year term as President on Sunday.
Was he just toying with the media?
“I wish it were true, but we should not make much out of this,” said Sebastian Arcos of Florida International University’s School of International and Public Affairs. “It means nothing. It’s a joke,” said Arcos, who was a political prisoner in Cuba in the 1980’s.
Under Raul Castro Cuba has seen some reforms. There has been a loosening up of internet and cell phone communications. Just this week, dissident and human rights activist Yoani Sanchez was permitted to begin a world tour, bad-mouthing the Castro regime. Also this week, a group of U.S. lawmakers visited Cuba and reported open lines of communication.
“I had very good talks with President Castro and with others, also,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy a Vermont Democrat.
Raul’s brother and predecessor, Fidel, has become little more than a caricature since stepping down in 2006, and is most notable for his quirky, brightly colored jogging suits.
FIU’s Arcos says if hints from Raul of an early retirement would be significant, if true.
“It would be wonderful, because a change of leadership is always an opportunity for change. Always,” Arcos said.
At the landmark La Carreta restaurant in West Miami-Dade Friday Cuban-Americans were skeptical of an early Raul Castro departure.
“No, no, no, no!” Manuel Nobrega declared when asked is he placed any value in Castro’s cryptic Friday comments.
But where there is cafecito, there’s hope.
Michael Palma said he would celebrate the departure of the younger Castro.
“Good riddance, good riddance!” Palma cried.
“I hope he dies,” Palma said, then laughed a long, loud laugh.