When all is said and done, Cubans are very practical people.
Living for decades under a centralized island economy with limited international trading opportunities has taught people real survival skills. Cubans learn to make do without some basic commodities and find creative solutions to life's everyday challenges.
But that pragmatism has not always extended to how people view Fidel Castro.
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If anyone had suggested last July that their 80-year-old president would still be convalescing a year after emergency intestinal surgery that almost killed him, lots of Cubans wouldn't have bought it.
This was the David who has stood up to the Goliath of the north, in the view of his supporters.
If 10 American presidents and 200 CIA plots couldn't kill him, how could a little intestinal bleed and infection?
All the talk
For a good part of 2006, Castro's health dominated the national conversation. It was the buzz at every bus stop and barber shop.
For months, most Cubans were convinced he'd be back on his feet before long.
They even ignored Castro's personal and candid health updates published in the government press, warning people that he "might lose the battle."
Back then, as he tried to prepare people for his death, folks just plain believed that he would rebound and rebound swiftly.
"Fidel," chanted his supporters, "won't let us down. He'll be back by the new year."
"Castro," chided his detractors, "won't be able to stay out of the limelight for more than a few weeks."
No matter the camp, I remembered thinking just how people seemed to be ignoring one small detail – the guy was up there in years.
Perhaps people were just afraid to imagine the end of Castro's roughly five decades of power, I thought. Maybe they had a fear of the unknown.
Whatever the motivation, here was a nation in denial.
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Western diplomats in Havana quietly worried that Castro's prolonged absence from the national stage would spark a power vacuum and in-fighting.
Longtime observers feared that the nation would take to the streets, rejecting the peaceful transfer of power to his brother Raul and a small hand-picked collective.
Instead, at this very complicated juncture, the regime seems to have successfully managed expectations.
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Raul established a business-as-usual atmosphere by capitalizing on his reputation as a good manager who relies on outside input. Letting other people take center stage, he has insisted that his big brother would recuperate and come back.
The message was simple – no power struggle was ensuing here.
In fact, this was so successful that even members of his ruling Communist Party now see the transfer of power to Raul as permanent.
Although, there is still much debate on Havana's streets about what the transition of power may or may not bring.
"Fidel will come back but in a different role," said Liliana Rodriguez, a graduate student. "Other people will be in control. He'll help set policy."
Juan Cabrera, a pensioner who teaches history at a Havana night school program for teen drop-outs, believes Castro is enjoying retirement. "The succession has been good for my country. No surprise endings."
But lots of Cubans, including Cabrera's youngest son, disagree by strongly rejecting the status quo. Juan Manuel, who works as a gypsy cab driver, turned in his Young Communist membership back in 1993 after Soviet aid dried up and triggered the collapse of the Cuban economy.
"I just want one thing: Change, change, and more change," said the 36-year old Cabrera.
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That translates into reforming the economy to raise the standard of living – the one thing all Cubans pretty much agree on.
Free social services and food subsidies aside, the multiple-income average family here earns the equivalent of between $60 and $75 a month.
State employees clamor for higher wages while many dream of starting their own business. People think they have a better shot at this with Raul Castro at the helm.
Yet, Raul's reputation as a reformer may be more fiction than fact. Some associates have described the 76-year-old Castro as even less flexible than Fidel when it comes to supporting free market measures. In addition, chances of seeing Raul undertake any major reform dim further when you consider that his power at the moment is merely custodial.
No longer asking
Still, the island seems to have hit a turning point: the myth no longer rules the perception of the man.
As one government official observed, "It took a better part of a year, but people here finally accept that Fidel may never be strong enough to put on his military uniform and resume his official duties."
That's an ironic turn of events – given the fact that the regime continues to classify Castro's health information as a state secret. So, the public still does not know even the name of the illness that sidelined their president.
But, perhaps, even more ironic – people have stopped asking.
Proving, when all is said and done, Cubans are very practical people.