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    Obama jokes that long-winded speeches run in the Castro family

    Obama jokes that long-winded speeches run in the Castro family
    BY MIMI WHITEFIELD AND NORA GAMEZ TORRES NGAMEZTORRES@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM
    12/19/2014 2:48 PM 12/19/2014 6:45 PM

    When President Barack Obama spoke by phone to Cuban leader Raúl Castro
    earlier this week, they even had time for a bit of levity about Fidel
    Castro’s legendarily long speeches.

    The two leaders spoke Tuesday to iron out details of the release of
    prisoners, including American Alan Gross, who were held in both
    countries and discuss their mutual plan to reinstate diplomatic relations.

    After speaking for 15 minutes at the top of the conversation with Raúl,
    Obama said he apologized for taking so much time but said he wanted to
    make sure his positions were clear.

    Castro responded that Obama shouldn’t worry because he was still a young
    man and still had a chance to break his brother Fidel’s record for very
    long speeches, according to the president. His brother, he told Obama,
    once spoke for seven hours.

    Obama said Raúl Castro then proceeded to take twice as long as he did to
    make his points.

    That gave Obama the opportunity to say, “It runs in the family.”

    But Obama said, in response to a question at his Friday news conference,
    that was the only exchange the two had about Fidel Castro.

    Throughout this week when the stunning announcement of renewed
    diplomatic ties has reverberated from Washington to Havana, among the
    big question have been: Where is Fidel Castro? And did he consent to the
    historic change? Or is the former Cuban leader in such deteriorated
    health that it no longer matters?

    “Dictators need an enemy, the bigger the better,” said former Cuban
    political prisoner Sebastian Arcos, who now serves as assistant director
    of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. “I
    would be very surprised if Fidel Castro is conscious and approved this
    agreement.”

    Frank Mora, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Center at FIU,
    also doubts Castro green-lighted the accord.

    “Fidel Castro always took advantage of an adversarial relationship with
    the United States,” he said.

    The 88-year-old Castro ceded power to his younger brother Raúl in 2008
    after falling ill in 2006. But he continues to have a looming presence
    even though he is rarely publicly seen or heard.

    Essays signed by him continue to be published in state-run newspapers,
    most recently on Oct. 14 in response to a New York Times editorial. And
    photos of meetings with foreign heads of state were published in July.

    Fidel Castro’s last public appearance was on Jan. 8, when he attended
    the inauguration of an art gallery in Havana featuring the work of Cuban
    artist Alexis Leyva, aka Kcho. Looking fragile, he was hunched over and
    used a cane to walk, surrounded by an entourage of security. Many
    speculated that his years on earth were numbered.

    Many Cuba watchers are now waiting to see whether Fidel Castro makes a
    statement about the agreement with the United States. Previous attempts
    by Washington at reconciliation under Fidel Castro’s reign were
    ultimately torpedoed. But since stepping in as leader, Raúl has
    introduced some economic reforms and — it is now clear — held quiet
    negotiations with President Barack Obama’s administration.

    In making the new U.S.-Cuba ties announcement Wednesday, the two
    addressed their respective nations at the same time and each spoke for
    about 10 minutes.

    “The normalization of relations, especially trade relations, has always
    been a priority for Raúl Castro, not because he is a Democrat but rather
    for his legitimacy as ruler,” Arcos said. “He did not do it before
    because Fidel would not allow it.”

    Longtime anti-embargo advocate Max Lesnik disagrees.

    “If Fidel Castro wasn’t in agreement, it would not have happened,” said
    Lesnik, of the Miami-based Alianza Martiana and founder of Replica
    magazine, who has long been known as a personal friend of Fidel Castro.

    Before January’s appearance at the art gallery, Fidel Castro attended
    the National Assembly meeting in February 2013 but did not speak. Lesnik
    said he has not seen the former leader but is sure he remains in good
    health.

    “If he has suffered a setback in his health, that would be very
    difficult to keep secret,” Lesnik said. “Besides Raúl would not do
    anything so dramatic to affect his brother’s well-being if Fidel were
    opposed.

    “It is important for this agreement to have taken place while Fidel
    Castro remains alive and lucid because had it been done with Fidel not
    physically present, there would always be doubt as to whether or not he
    agreed or would have done something different,” Lesnik said. “This was
    done with his blessing. Otherwise, it would be viewed as a betrayal to
    the revolution.”

    Much remains to be seen about how the agreement between Washington and
    Havana will unfold. Also in question is whether there with be changes to
    the current government structure on the island.

    Raúl Castro, 83, appeared alone in military uniform during his noon
    televised address on Wednesday. Watching from a couch inside government
    offices, according to published photos in Cuba, was Vice President
    Ramiro Valdés, a high-profile revolutionary who represents the old guard
    and now oversees the island’s telecommunications.

    “That’s very interesting and suggests that Ramiro can be a contender in
    an internal struggle,” Arcos said. “The back story is that Raúl and
    Ramiro do not get along. … Raúl has not given Ramiro a high profile
    under his administration. If Fidel is in his final phase, the dispute
    between Raúl and Ramiro gets interesting.”

    Source: Obama jokes that long-winded speeches run in the Castro family |
    The Miami Herald –
    http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article4680543.html