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Last Updated: Friday, 22 October, 2004, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Cuba ponders life after the fall

By Stephen Gibbs
BBC correspondent in Havana

Fidel Castro and his brother Raul (right)
Fidel Castro nominated his brother Raul as his successor in 2001
Fidel Castro is in "excellent spirits", declares the official note released by the Cuban government following his fall.

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.

Fidel Castro and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1960
1959: Overthrows Batista and takes power
1962: Cuban missile crisis
1976: Elected president
1980: 125,000 Cubans flee to US
1996: US trade embargo made permanent
1999/2000: Cuban boy Elian Gonzales repatriated from Miami
2003: Cuba condemned over human rights record
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."

Castro falls to the floor before a rally in Havana
Television cameras captured the moment the Cuban leader fell
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."

Watch a video of Castro's fall

'Wrong kind of fall' for Castro
22 Oct 04 |  Americas
Castro breaks knee, arm in fall
21 Oct 04 |  Americas
EU ponders softer stance on Cuba
19 Oct 04 |  Americas
Cuban dissident economist freed
23 Jul 04 |  Americas
Country profile: Cuba
02 Jul 04 |  Country profiles

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