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Where the next Castro might take Fidel's Cuba

Some analysts say Raúl could open up the country's economy and start to ease hostilities with the United States.

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At a White House briefing Tuesday afternoon, spokesman Tony Snow said that the US has no plans to rethink its relationship with Cuba for now in light of the temporary transition of power. "There are no plans to reach out,'' Mr. Snow said.

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One of the biggest challenges that Raúl, or any leader after Fidel, will face is a rise in expectations anticipated after regime change. "Everyone in Cuba, from the youngest school child to pensioner is waiting for something to change," says Dennis Hays, former official of the Cuban-American National Foundation, an organization dedicated to replacing Fidel's regime with a market-based, democratic government.

And he says no government has the power to bring about the multitude of changes he claims are needed in Cuba, even if it were to put forth its best effort. "There will be an increasing level of unrest, which will lead [Raúl] to crack down. At the end of the day, I don't know that society will look all that different."

Although Raúl has been said to admire the way China has slowly phased in market-friendly reforms, many say that enthusiasm has waned because of the money that Hugo Chávez, the leader of Venezuela, has been able to provide Cuba in oil revenue. "The significant subsidy and security has reduced the political incentive to open up further," says Julia Sweig, author of "Inside the Cuban Revolution" and Director of Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington-based think tank.

But so has the US government's demands for regime change, she says. And without Fidel, who is the symbol of anti-Americanism, Cuba might raise its defenses higher. "The instinct of everybody there in leadership will be to batten down the hatches," she says. "The moment is a delicate one."

After Raúl?

Having just celebrated his 75th birthday, Raúl, if he is to take the permanent lead of Cuba, will eventually be replaced. For now, chatter of candidates is speculative, but Mr. Latell, the Raúl biographer, says Vice President Carlos Lage could be a successor. Rumors also swirl around Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque, and National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón – men who have already been ruling the country in its transition plans, say experts.

No one knows who will eventually be chosen, but Latell says Raúl has a keen ability when it comes to finding and grooming the next generation. "It was Raúl who brought Che Guevara into the Cuba revolutionary fold," he says. "Che was his first big recruitment. He is good at that."

Ms. Llana is Latin America correspondent for the Monitor and USA Today.

Other potential successors

• Carlos Lage, 55, vice president since 1991. Previously a leading member and later deputy director of Fidel Castro's personal staff. Although a close associate of Castro, he differs with him over some reform-related issues.

• Felipe Pérez Roque, 41, was named foreign minister in 1999. He had previously been a long-term key adviser to Fidel and acted as his personal chief of staff.

• Ricardo Alarcón, 69, National Asssembly president, was previously foreign minister and represented Cuba at the UN for 25 years. His relatively liberal stance had brought him into confrontation with party leaders but earned him support from younger, more reform-minded party members.

Sources: AP, The Independent, CubaNews.