MIAMI—Two days after Cuban leader Fidel Castro handed the reins of power to his younger brother Raul, there was no new information about the elder Castro's medical condition and no public sightings of the newly named acting president.
Broadcasters didn't mention Fidel's health during state-run television's evening Round Table news program, and national assembly speaker Carlos Alarcon provided no details during an earlier interview on the Democracy Now! TV show. He said that he had spoken to Castro on Monday and again Tuesday about world affairs.
"I must say that he's perfectly conscious," Alarcon said. "He's in very good spirits, as always."
But that did little to clarify a statement attributed to Castro on Tuesday that suggested that at best doctors don't yet know his medical future. The spokesman for the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Drew Blakeney, said in an e-mail that the consensus emerging is that Castro is terminally ill and won't return to power.
There was also much speculation on why Raul had made no public appearance since the surprise announcement Monday that Fidel was temporarily surrendering power to him.
"Raul should make a speech, let us know he's around," said Eugenio, a taxi driver in Havana who declined to provide his last name.
Raul Castro's lack of visibility underscores the vast differences between the brothers who have been at each other's sides in government for 47 years, but who have considerable differences, both in style and substance.
Where Fidel loves the limelight, Raul appears to abhor it. Where Fidel is a one-man show who relies largely on his own instincts, Raul is a consummate team player who solicits opinions.
Where Fidel's organizational skills were often questioned, Raul has a reputation as the super-efficient organizer of a powerful army who championed economic reform in the early 1990s.
Raul's army is one of Cuba's most successful institutions. He was at its helm when the military was fat at more than 150,000 members with Soviet money and equipment—and he presided over it when it slimmed down to about 50,000 and became a haven for commercial entrepreneurs.
Experts say the publicity-shy younger brother offers a sound management style backed by the allegiance of his troops.
"Raul is a man. He'll have a drink, and he has a family. Raul is human. Fidel is not," said Roberto Ortega, a former colonel who now lives in Miami. "But don't misunderstand me: Raul has been doing Fidel's dirty work for years."
Experts say Raul could be taking the back stage because Fidel is still alive, alert and calling the shots. If Fidel is expected to recover, Cuba-watchers say, then it would be important for the Cuban government to project the notion that they have one president: Fidel.
Raul is likely busy mobilizing forces to be on alert, but will raise suspicions if he does not appear publicly soon, experts said.
"I knew he would not be on the Round Table (the government's evening news program) Tuesday night, that's just not his style," dissident journalist Miriam Leiva said by phone from Havana. "But now it's been 48 hours and he hasn't shown his face. That's strange."
Raul is considered far more liberal than Fidel on economic issues, and experts think he is likely to consider reforms along the lines of China's system, though nothing will happen while Fidel lives.
"It would be impossible for him to change things and then have Fidel come back and say, `What on earth have you been doing in my absence?'" said Richard Gott, author of the book, "Cuba: A New History."
Despite living in his brother's shadow for more than 50 years, Raul has had "an extraordinary career," Gott said.
The Castro brothers were raised in the eastern village of Biran and both attended Belen Jesuit school. They took up arms together at the start of the revolution in 1953 and were both jailed.
Armando Lago, an economist compiling a documented list of every person killed in the name of the Cuban revolution, says that as a governor of Oriente province, Raul personally was responsible for 550 executions in 1959 alone. About 100 of them took place without a trial, Lago said.
"He's ruthless. He loves blood," Lago said. "He personally gave coup de grace shots. Fidel has never done that. But he reorganized the military, made them all rich, and the military is the only thing that works in Cuba.
Former CIA analyst Brian Latell, author of "After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next Leader," said Raul has management qualities that Fidel lacks. He's a great backroom dealer, and is more inclusive in his decision-making, Latell said.
But the 75-year-old brother is known to have a drinking problem.
"He certainly has had a record of terrible, terrible brutality and cruelty, but I don't think he's a sociopath," Latell said. "Raul shares. Fidel doesn't share."
Virtually all experts agree that Raul's largest impediment will be his lack of his brother's charisma.
"He can mobilize the army but he doesn't have the charisma to mobilize the people," said Berta Mexidor, founder of Cuba's independent library system and now living in Mississippi. "He is a strong man, a military man, but he is also an old man."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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