The top State Department official for Latin America, Thomas Shannon, told reporters today that Fidel Castro is still alive "as far as we know," but "the fact that he didn't show up for his own birthday celebration is significant."
Shannon said there was no doubt that a transfer of power had taken place from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul as far as day-to-day operations go. The U.S. is still uncertain, however, what role, if any, Fidel has in major state decisions.
The U.S. has observed a tightening of the Cuban regime under Raul with the intent of showing "absolute control of the state" after Fidel fell ill. Within the Bush administration, Shannon says, there is "honest disagreement" about how to best approach the Cuban regime. "We're getting all kinds of advice," Shannon laughed.
Some officials favor more engagement with Cuba's leaders in an effort to push for democratic reform, others say the Cuban leadership has to demonstrate it is moving toward democracy before the U.S. opens up any discussions.
In any event, the U.S. is taking a "wait and see" approach on how to proceed with Cuba policy until after Fidel passes. At that point, they will see how Raul moves and what sort of opposition he might come up against within the Cuban government. "We really don't know how things are going to break in Cuba," Shannon said. So far they have not received any indications that Raul will moderate from the policies of his brother, but Shannon believes given the secrecy of the communist state there is no way to predict a post-Fidel Cuba.