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Cuba instability threat may rise : U.S. intelligence
February 27, 2008 / 7:23 PM / 10 years ago

Cuba instability threat may rise : U.S. intelligence

<p>A woman prepares individual tobacco leaves by hand in a curing barn at a tobacco farm in Cuba's western province of Pinar del Rio February 26, 2008. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cuban instability could rise in the next half-year after a period of initial calm following President Fidel Castro’s retirement, U.S. intelligence leaders told Congress on Wednesday.

The officials said they expected no change in the communist country’s hard-line policies under Castro’s brother, Raul, who has named old-guard allies to top posts. The officials likened Cuba’s current transition to leadership changes which maintained communism after the Soviet revolution.

But rising public expectations and political open-mindedness in a younger generation could incite change.

“The political situation probably will remain stable during at least the initial months now that Fidel Castro has handed off power to his brother Raul,” Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Fidel Castro, who led Cuba for nearly 50 years since his armed revolution and defied a U.S. embargo to stay in power, announced his retirement earlier this month after an 18-month illness during which his brother was in charge.

Economic subsidies from Venezuela under Castro ally Hugo Chavez have helped stave off any immediate pressure on the Cuban government, but missteps in policy or crisis management could spark instability, McConnell said.

The transition itself may awaken desire for change, said Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

“That is something we need to watch over the next six or seven months,” Maples told the committee. “There may be an expectation on the part of the population to see where a new presidency will go, and a failure to deliver could increase concerns.”

McConnell said there have been no signs yet of an impending migration wave -- a prospect that has concerned U.S. political leaders, particularly in Florida where Cubans have fled since the revolution.

He compared the prospects in Cuba to the Soviet Union’s political evolution. “What we’re seeing in Cuba is not unlike what we witnessed in Russia to some extent -- the older generation hanging on hanging on.”

The key would be the fourth post-revolutionary generation, he said. “They’re thinking new thoughts, they’re asking hard questions. So how do you get from the first generation of the revolution to the fourth generation? ....my concern is there’s going to be some instability in that process.”

Editing by David Wiessler

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