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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 January 2007, 16:23 GMT
Cubans look to future with trepidation
As the speculation over Cuban President Fidel Castro's condition continues, the BBC's Fernan Gonzalez-Torres returns to his country of origin to gauge the mood.

Two men standing by a sign saying "80 and more"
Cuba's leader did not turn up for his 80th birthday celebrations
Travelling recently across Cuba, I got the impression that virtually nothing had changed since President Castro handed over power to his younger brother, Raul, last July.

While the eyes of the international media are focused on Cuba waiting for something to happen, life on the island goes on as normal.

In public, most Cubans do not speak about Mr Castro's illness.

It is still treated by the government as a state secret. And it would seem that, for ordinary Cubans, there are other, more urgent things to do. How to get to work, or find enough to eat, for example.

When asked in private, Cubans say they are aware that Mr Castro is extremely ill - in spite of the sparse information they get from the state-controlled media. Some express relief at not seeing him on television almost every day.

No change yet

The fact that the Cuban president did not turn up for what was supposed to be the (already postponed) celebration of his 80th birthday is a sign for many people that he will never return to power.

Cuba is like the house of an old and ill man - the family want to change the furniture and make improvements, but no-one dares while he is still alive
Even if most Cubans would like to see an improvement in their economic situation, many seem to be worried about the changes that might come after Mr Castro.

For most people, the state has been the only provider of work.

Some Cubans say they fear losing their jobs. They struggle to get by as it is, with their average salary of US$10 (5). But for many, it is at least a steady source of income.

Others express fears about being ruled by Miami-based Cuban exiles, who might return with vast amounts of money.

Cuban-Americans are perceived by some as arrogant and out-of-touch with the aspirations of most Cubans.

There seems to be a consensus among Cubans that changes should be orderly and gradual. There is also a rejection of violence.

These perceptions were recently the subject of an editorial in the Catholic magazine Vitral (Stained Glass), the only critical publication allowed by the authorities.

Yet with acting President Raul Castro firmly in control of government, there are no signs that any big changes will take place in the immediate future.

As someone said to me: "Cuba is like the house of an old and ill man. The family want to change the furniture and make improvements, but no-one dares while he is still alive."

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