By WILL WEISSERT | Associated Press
HAVANA - Raul Castro said Monday that Communist Party leaders support his brother Fidel’s re-election to parliament, saying he is exercising two hours daily and gaining weight while keeping his mind healthy with reading and writing.
A seat in parliament is the first step in a process that would allow Fidel to retain his post atop the Council of State, Cuba’s supreme governing body.
Communist Party leaders “defend him running again” Raul Castro said of his brother’s candidacy for re-election to the Cuba’s National Assembly, or parliament, on Jan. 20.
Last week, the 81-year-old Fidel Castro suggested he would not cling to power forever, nor stand in the way of a younger generations. He hinted at his political future for the first time since emergency intestinal surgery forced him to cede power to a “provisional” government headed by Raul in July 2006.
But his younger brother indicated Monday that Fidel was healthy enough to stand for re-election.
Through daily exercise, Fidel “has recovered a lot of weight and muscle mass,” he said, speaking to voters in Fidel’s district in the eastern city of Santiago, where the brothers spent part of their youth. He said Fidel asked him to visit voters in district visit because he was unable to.
In remarks carried on Cuban state television Monday evening, Raul said his brother “has more time, he’s reading more than ever. He’s meditating more than ever and writing almost more than ever.”
“His powerful mind is healthier,” the acting president said.
Speaking of Cuba’s electoral system, Raul Castro noted that U.S. democracy pits two identical parties against one another, and joked that a choice between a Republican and Democrat is like choosing between himself and his brother Fidel.
“We could say in Cuba we have two parties: one led by Fidel and one led by Raul, what would be the difference?” he asked. “That’s the same thing that happens in the United States ... both are the same. Fidel is a little taller than me, he has a beard and I don’t.”
The 76-year-old Raul scoffed at the notion Cuba needs to be more like the U.S. But he also acknowledged that the island’s communist government has its flaws, saying “our system has to become more democratized.”
“I want to say this: If we only have one party that represents the interests of the people, where we can have differences, we should have them,” he said. “Not class clashes, but it’s good to have differences.”
The younger Castro added that those wanting to express critical opinions should “do so in the correct place, because sometimes we have a lot of meetings and those who go to those meetings say nothing ... but in the hallway they talk.”