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As Castro Is Mourned, There's Hope His Death Will Give Way To Change


Two emotions are palpable this week on the streets of Havana. Publicly, Cubans are mourning the death of Fidel Castro who was their president for nearly half a century. Privately, some express hope for change in the unyielding rule of the Castro family. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Throughout the country and state offices, workers gathered to mourn in official ceremonies.

MARIA IRENE BALBIN: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: At this education ministry office in Havana, Maria Irene Balbin reads a passage from a fiery speech Castro delivered in 2000 posted in the building's lobby. At a nearby table, workers sign a book pledging their oath to Castro's vision of, quote, "the fight for our dreams of justice for Cuba and the world." Rosa Rivero says she hasn't been able to stop crying since Castro died last Friday.

ROSA RIVERO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Every time I see one of his speeches," she says, "I just break down." But among even the most ardent supporters of Castro, whose legacy includes nearly five decades of one-party rule over Cuba and a tight-fisted control of the economy, some see his passing as a new opening for change.

ERI MATARAN: (Shouting in Spanish).

KAHN: Eri Mataran walks the streets of Havana selling a Cuban favorite - guayaba pastries. He says he can't take time to mourn. He has to sell all his deep-fried jelly-filled treats just to make a few dollars a day.

MATARAN: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "And right now, I have two fines, each for two hundred pesos in my pocket," he says. "The police say I can't sell on the street here even though I have a license," says Mataran. He says hopefully such harsh treatment will lighten up in a Cuba without Fidel. Cuba's economy has changed since Fidel Castro fell ill and handed over power officially to his younger brother nearly 10 years ago. Raul Castro, while less charismatic but more pragmatic, has allowed a burgeoning private sector to emerge and work toward improving relations with Cuba's longtime nemesis, the US. But Geraldo Sanchez, a longtime human rights activist here, says the pace of change has just been too slow.

GERALDO SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We all believe that even though Fidel was sick and out of the picture, he still swayed great influence on national issues, always taking the harder line," says Sanchez.

SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Sanchez says with Cuba's economy sputtering, he hopes a government without Fidel at the breaks will move faster to allow for change. "Our country needs to hurry up if it's going to survive," says Sanchez. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Havana, Cuba. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.