February 21, 2008
Fidel Castro will continue to lead the revolution despite his decision not to seek another term as the island's president, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has said.
''Fidel is not giving up or abandoning anything,'' Chávez, who has called Castro his ''father,'' was quoted as saying Tuesday night in news reports out of Caracas. ``He is occupying the post that he has to fill in the Cuban Revolution and the Latin American revolution.''
''Fidel always was in the vanguard,'' Chávez said as he inaugurated a hospital. ``Men like Fidel never retire.''
Chávez considers Castro his mentor and often asks him for his advice. Venezuela is Cuba's biggest benefactor, supplying the island with more than $1 billion in net annual subsidies largely through discounted oil.
Chávez has often acted as a semiofficial spokesman for Castro, giving occasional health updates on the 81-year-old leader and at one point asserting Castro would soon don his olive-green military uniform to lead Cuba again.
But Chávez also acknowledged Tuesday that Castro, who 19 months ago ceded the leadership on a temporary basis to his brother Raúl after emergency surgery, would not be reelected president of Cuba. ''This is a lesson to those who accuse men like Fidel of desperately clinging to power,'' he said.
With Castro on the sideline, the focus is likely to shift to Chávez's relation with Raúl Castro. There have been widespread reports that relations between the two men are strained, and the U.S. intelligence community hinted at this in a Feb. 5 threat assessment presented to Congress.
The report forecast ''a period of adjustment in Venezuela's relations with Cuba'' in a post-Fidel era but predicted the two governments ``will find ways to smooth over any differences that may arise during the ongoing succession period in Cuba.''