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Posted October 23, 2004 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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By Stephen Gibbs | BBC correspondent in Havana

image AP
The dramatic trip in front of the world’s press, which brought the 78-year-old crashing to the ground, has left him with a broken left knee, and a hairline fracture in his right arm.

But wounded pride? Not a bit of it.

In the minutes after his tumble, the Cuban leader once again proved his uncanny ability to turn adversity into triumph.

He summoned for a microphone, and on live television reassured Cuba that he was still very much in control.

With more than a touch of self-deprecating humour, the veteran leader declared that the good news was that “as you can see, I can still talk”.

‘Poor chap’

Nevertheless, in the coming weeks the Cuban people will probably see a different Fidel Castro than the one they have known for the last 45 years.

Their commander-in-chief, who has long said he will be in the front line if ever Cuba is attacked, is likely to have to resort to a wheelchair as he recovers.

An inevitable reminder that the Cuban revolution, which in 1959 was distinguished by the youth of its leaders, now has at its helm a man who is not only the world’s longest-serving political leader, but also one of its eldest.

“Pobrecito”, roughly translated as “poor chap” is the reaction most Cubans seem to be giving on hearing the news.

In the city of Santa Clara, where a crowd of 30,000 had just heard him speak for around an hour, many burst into tears when they saw what had happened.

“I’m so sorry”, said Yolanda Garcia, a 73-year-old retired teacher, as she sat in the shade in a Havana park watching Cuban children playing hula hoop.

“I hope he gets better soon. He has sacrificed his life for this country.”


‘Revolutionaries don’t retire’

A few blocks away, a 27-year-old man who didn’t want to give his real name, had some advice for the only president either he, or his father, has ever known: “Take a break.”

He checked over his shoulder in case anyone was listening, before whispering: “It is about time Cuba had a new history.”

Fidel Castro himself has never shown any inclination to stand down. “Revolutionaries don’t retire” he says.

He has, however, been reminded of his mortality. In 2001 he briefly fainted during a speech. Shortly afterwards he confirmed that his nominated successor is his younger brother Raul.

Raul, who is 73, and also a veteran of the Cuban Revolution, holds his own record, as the world’s longest-serving defence minister.

In recent months Raul Castro has been leading an anti-corruption drive across the island. Many of his loyalists have been placed in key positions in Cuba’s tourism industry.

Some analysts have viewed this as at least partially driven by a desire within the upper echelons of the Cuban government to ensure that if ever a transition of power is required, it goes smoothly.

But the reality is that in the minds of most Cubans, all that is still a long way off.

“Fidel has the best doctors in the world” said a smiling Lisa, a computer technician.

“They say he will live to be 125.”

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