As Castro fades, a crop of new Cuban leaders
Interviews with two younger political figures suggest a gradual opening both economically and socially.
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In response to a question about the conflict of interest between writers and the state, Mr. Prieto laughs, saying that, "sometimes I feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but I hope that artists and writers feel that I am still one of them."Skip to next paragraph
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Unlike many members of the government, Prieto is very candid as he speaks about allegations that the Cuban government censors political websites.
"It would be a delusion to think we could hide that torrent of information," he insists, referring to anti-Castro websites. "The only possibility is to beat them with a better concept of life."
Prieto also defended the arrest of the dissident writer Raul Rivero in 2003.
"He was not arrested for his views, but for receiving US funding for his collaboration with a country that has besieged our island," argues the minister, referring to the 45-year-long US trade embargo.
An avid fan of the Beatles since the 1970s when their music was essentially banned by the Cuban state, Prieto has led an appreciation campaign of John Lennon. In 2000, he unveiled a statue and dedicated "John Lennon Park" to the musician's memory. Many Cubans joke that he is not as much a Marxist-Leninist as a "Marxist-Lennonist."
Prieto, because of a moment on Cuban television five years ago, is known as one of the few Cabinet ministers who has ever dared to challenge the president. Cubans recall a news segment in which Castro and Prieto appeared together.
After Castro blamed his minister for the fact that so many artists were leaving the country to work abroad, Prieto defended himself.
Millions watched as their supreme leader accepted his error and apologized to Abel Prieto.
"Prieto is extremely important. He has carved out a sizable space for cultural expression [for] many Cuban artists and writers since he became minister of culture," says Julia Sweig, director of the Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
In a Foreign Affairs article, written after a lengthy visit to Cuba in November, Ms. Sweig indicated that expectations were high among Cuban officials that the government could move forward after Castro.
"People at all levels of the Cuban government and the Communist Party were enormously confident of the regime's ability to survive Fidel's passing," Ms. Sweig wrote.
That confidence was apparent in Raúl Castro's speech to the opening session of the new parliament last week. "Tell it like it is – tell the truth without justifications, because we are tired of justifications in this revolution," the acting president urged his ministers, according to the youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde.
Attempts by the Bush administration to set the agenda for change in Cuba, says Sweig, appear to be increasingly irrelevant to the reality inside the country, as a new generation gains increasing clout.
Gott, the Latin American analyst, says that both Ms. Castro and Prieto are figures to watch.
"Mariela Castro is a more than competent member of the Castro clan – she will have an important role in social affairs," he says. "The genial Abel Prieto might well be promoted from the culture ministry to something more taxing."