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Fidel Castro Resigns; President Bush's Reaction to Castro Stepping Down; The Democratic Battle: Focus on Hawaii, Wisconsin
Aired February 19, 2008 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Fidel Castro says he's wanted to be Cuba's president "to my last breath," but old age and ill health intervene.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Will the retirement of the world's longest-serving government leader mean the end of the Cuban revolution or just a different President Castro?
Hi, there. I'm Brianna Keilar at CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.
Kyra Phillips is on assignment.
LEMON: And I'm Don Lemon.
You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.
Shouts of free Cuba, tempered by cautious optimism, that's the scene right now on the streets of Miami's Little Havana. It's the heart of the Cuban exile community. They have waited decades for change, and many say they are still waiting for it.
Our Susan Candiotti is there live for us.
A very busy day. It looks like it's busy around round you, Susan.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and you put your finger on it. They have a dream. Will the dream come true? That, of course, is the unanswered question right now.
In the last hour, the crowd has thinned out a bit, and now then again I think there might be even more reporters than Cuban exiles here who have gathered at the Cafe Versailles. But, nevertheless, you have a lot of people still honking their horns as they go by, be it a car, be it a truck. You name it, that's what you're hearing.
We're even seeing across the street over here a large Cuban flag hanging between, appropriately, two palm trees, right here on Eighth Street in little Havana. And over here, you've got people even selling little Cuban flags, people holding signs calling for freedom for Cuba. And this is what we've been hearing all day. Everyone trying to put their finger on what the -- what will happen now that Fidel Castro has turned over his title.
Now, we see over here -- I have to introduce you to this gentleman, Don. This is Wayne Morris (ph) from Mossen (ph), Wisconsin. He's a snowbird down here and, of course, as you can see by the camera hanging around his neck, he's a tourist.
So you're down here visiting for the day. You saw everything going on. But there's another reason why this is important to you.
You participated in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and you were part of the U.S. Navy at that time. Is that why what is happening today has special significance for you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is. I was on a destroyer out of Charleston, South Carolina, and we got the word to go down to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and intercept some of these missiles that Nikita Khrushchev was sending into Cuba. So we boarded these ships and John Kennedy, the president, put a stop to it.
CANDIOTTI: And when you heard the news this day about Fidel Castro giving up his two clear titles, commander in chief, president of the council of the state, why did you decide to come over here as part of the tour group?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I was with Jensen Beach Tour Group out of Jensen Beach, Florida, and we were scheduled to come here for lunch. And...
CANDIOTTI: What are your observations now that you see all this activity?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm very, very happy for these Cubans, and I hope that maybe they'll open that country up a little bit, and I can take a cruise down there and take my family down.
CANDIOTTI: Well, we'll see what happens in the days, weeks, months, possibly years to come.
All right. Thank you very much for joining us, Wayne (ph).
Now, this gentleman over here, you are originally from Cuba?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, ma'am.
CANDIOTTI: You took refuge in the United States?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 1960 I came here.
CANDIOTTI: How did you get the news this morning?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got up in the morning about 6:00, like every morning, and I saw the news on Channel 7, Channel 10.
CANDIOTTI: Local television stations here, and CNN.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And also...
CANDIOTTI: Also? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... by the Castro picture in Versailles, he doesn't want to be anymore, blah, blah, blah. I said, "What's going on?" And then I watch also Internet, I watch also the Internet, the same thing.
CANDIOTTI: What is your take on this? Do you think that there will be a transition to democracy now that this much has happened?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want that. We want that. I belong to the organization that told -- let me show you.
CANDIOTTI: But will it happen? I know there are many organizations here. There is a -- yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the last year, December 10th. Cuba, this picture inside Cuba.
CANDIOTTI: Inside Cuba?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. You see the people? This is dissidents, and they tried to stop them, OK? In the street in Havana they tried to -- we have to stop this.
We need to free them. We need to free them. We don't need anybody in this country that...
CANDIOTTI: Do you think that this one act will help bring you closer to what you want to see?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we need to finish with the system we have in Cuba. No, and it can't be a transition within at all. Out! We need out whatever has to be done.
CANDIOTTI: Thank you very much for joining us.
But will that happen?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
CANDIOTTI: This is one of those watch-and-wait situations, Don. No one has a clear answer of that.
Back to you.
LEMON: I was just going to say, you know, you never know as a reporter when he's pulling out this stuff, what they're going to do. You can see obviously everyone is very passionate about this.
And I have to ask you, Susan -- and I know that you covered Elian Gonzalez day in and day out. Obviously it was probably a much more hostile environment.
Comparatively, can you offer us a comparison to the crowds now, the reaction now as opposed to that? It was probably the last time we saw this much activity on the streets of Little Havana. CANDIOTTI: Well, that was a little bit different in that the news that Fidel Castro was very ill and was temporarily turning over power to his brother happened late in the evening. So, that gave more of an opportunity for people to hear about it, come over here at night, and there were many people here that night.
But then it dropped off during the next day. So, it's changed quite a bit here.
And I can also say that you -- you clearly see the pain not only of the Cuban exiles here, but also, having made several trips to Cuba over the past 20 years, you see the family ties and the people there who wish to come here, the people there who are actually satisfied with the way the government is running in Cuba and don't want to see it transition as some of these exiles do.
But ultimately, the goal for Cuban exiles here, of course, as you have heard time and again, is to bring across a peaceful transition of power in Cuba.
LEMON: And I know it's really loud there, Susan. You probably didn't hear all of my question. But congratulations for keeping your concentration with all of the noise going on there.
People probably don't realize how tough that is to do.
Thank you very much. We'll check back in with you.
CANDIOTTI: Thank you.
KEILAR: Hope from the future from Cuba to Kosovo to Africa was very much on President Bush's mind today as he continued his African tour in Rwanda. The president attended an emotional service honoring more than a million Rwandans killed in 1994.
CNN White House Correspondent Ed Henry is traveling with the president.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): During an emotional visit to Rwanda, President Bush was greeted with the unexpected news that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro was stepping down. So, he moved quickly to declare that after nearly 50 years, it's finally time for democracy to take root.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Eventually this transition will lead to free and fair election. And I mean free and I mean fair. Not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as being true democracy.
HENRY: The president said while some will be tempted to accept a handoff from Fidel to his brother Raul in the name of stability, the focus should be on what this means for the Cuban people.
BUSH: They're the ones who have been denied their right to live in a free society. So, I view this as a period of transition. That -- and it should be the beginning of the Democratic transition for the people in Cuba.
HENRY: It became a day for Mr. Bush to push his freedom agenda from Cuba to Kosovo, breaking with Russian President Vladimir Putin to say the U.S. is recognizing Kosovo as an independent nation.
BUSH: Kosovo committed itself to the highest standards of democracy, including freedom and tolerance and justice for citizens of all ethnic backgrounds.
HENRY: And that theme continued in Rwanda, where the president said he was deeply moved at a memorial honoring the more than a million Rwandans slaughtered in the 1994 genocide.
BUSH: It can't help but shake your emotions to your very foundation.
HENRY: Trying to blunt criticism the U.S. is not doing enough right now to stop what Mr. Bush himself has called genocide in Sudan, the president pledged $100 million to beef up the U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur.
BUSH: We will help through sanctions. We'll help through pressure. And we'll help provide money.
HENRY (on camera): When the president talks about an eventually transition to democracy in Cuba, White House officials say he's referring to the fact that we're still in the early hours after Fidel Castro's announcement. They want to be cautious because they do not have a clear handle on the political situation there on the ground in Havana, but they say the bottom line is that Mr. Bush, in his final year in office, will push as hard as he can to get that transition to democracy as quickly as possible.
Ed Henry, CNN, Kigali, Rwanda.
KEILAR: One last note about the president's stop in Rwanda. The press corps actually filed their reports from the Hotel De Mille Collines, recognizable to many of you from the movie Hotel Rwanda. This hotel served as a safe house for thousands during the 1994 genocide, and it is still a four-star hotel.
LEMON: Three more states, Wisconsin, Hawaii, and Washington, weigh in on the race for the White House. For the Democrats, the Washington primary is non-binding. But Wisconsin and Hawaii are big battlegrounds, and the big question -- can Hillary Clinton put the brakes on Barack Obama's winning streak? The question for Republicans, can Mike Huckabee pull some surprises in today's GOP contests in Wisconsin and Washington?
The nation's 50th state is the birthplace of Barack Obama, but Hillary Clinton is also hoping for a strong showing in Hawaii. And the two Democrats are in a tight, tight race in Wisconsin. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is on the Democratic trail and she joins us now from Honolulu.
I am very jealous.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm sorry, Don. I wish you could here with us here, but it is a lot of work. I am telling you, we are working here.
There is a lot of excitement and preparation for the caucuses tonight. And party officials are expecting anywhere from two to three times the number of people to come out and vote this time around. And they point to a couple of things.
They say this is history-making, but they also say that Chelsea Clinton, Clinton's daughter, her three-day campaign blitz, really created some momentum on her side. And they also say you can't deny it, the native son of Hawaii, Barack Obama, generating a lot of enthusiasm.
Over the last couple days, I had a chance to sit down and talk to some people who really know him as a child, growing up here, and what he was like.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Barry Obama, the John Travolta of Punahou High, the easygoing guy with the big smile, recalls his homeroom teacher.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smile. Big smile.
MALVEAUX: His boyhood passion -- basketball.
CHRIS MCLAUGHLIN, BASKETBALL COACH: Lefty. Nice little left- hand jump-shot from the corner. And nothing but net very often. He was the only one that would dribble his ball everywhere.
MALVEAUX: Friends say the lanky teenager also held court in the classroom, writing poetry and leading discussions. And occasionally he caught someone's eye.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Because I got a crush on Obama ...
MALVEAUX: Before there was Obama Girl, there was Kelli Furushima, who at 16 had the crush on Obama.
KELLI FURUSHIMA, OBAMA CLASSMATE: He was very funny. He was really warm, friendly, kind of a prankster. Walking by him in the hall, he'd be like, "Hey, short stuff," and pull my pencil out of my ear and stick it in his ear and keep going.
MALVEAUX: He signed her year book.
FURUSHIMA: He signed his name and he put a little afro on the "B," a little afro on the "O"
MALVEAUX: Barack Obama was born in Honolulu in 1961. The son of a black Kenyan father and white Kansan mother, Obama was like many in Hawaii, of mixed cultures. But Barack's father abandoned him when he was only two.
Barack, known as "Barry," was raised by his single mother and his maternal grandparent in a white household. He attended the prestigious Punahou school on scholarship, where he was the only black boy in his class.
Barack's younger half-sister, Maya, recalls how Barry's relationship with his grandparents helped guide him through difficult times.
MAYA SOETERO-NG, OBAMA's HALF-SISTER: They really offered him a lot of stability. And I think that our grandmother's certainly gave him his pragmatism. She is a rather no-nonsense woman. Our grandfather was restless.
MALVEAUX: Obama struggled with his identity, and in his 1995 memoir writes about how he briefly used marijuana to mask his feelings, something his classmates and teachers say they were unaware of.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I read about it in his book, I was surprised.
FURUSHIMA: It meant nothing to anyone that he was even black. I mean, you know, he was just Barry. We defined each other more by personality.
MALVEAUX: Maya says two events helped shape Barack's coming to terms with himself. One was accepting a father who left him.
SOETERO-NG: I think it was important for him to dare to love his father in spite of his shortcomings.
MALVEAUX: The other was losing his mother.
SOETERO-NG: The death of our mother really unseeded us in many ways, made us feel untethered. And so we reached out for one another.
MALVEAUX: The boy with the big smile, now a man seeking the White House.
MALVEAUX: And, Don, Barack Obama and his sister, Maya, they are both still very close. She is on the campaign trail here in Hawaii, really pushing for the people to come out and support him. And she also says, too, this is a place where Barack Obama takes his wife and his two young daughters during holidays, any time that they can get off.
This is a place that they really feel at home, at peace. A place, she says, really, where things haven't changed. We may see that things very well may change just at the caucus tonight with all this enthusiasm about what's going to happen with the race -- Don.
LEMON: It must be quite amazing, Suzanne, just to watch the journey, especially knowing him when he grew up. But he's a native son of Hawaii, but Hillary Clinton, she is not giving up on the Aloha State, is she?
MALVEAUX: Oh, absolutely not. And it's really -- it's fascinating to talk to party officials, because they say within the last 48 hours or so, the last couple of days, there are a lot of people who have signed up.
This is an open process here, so Republicans, Independents and Democrats can all participate. And they say they are seeing really kind of a movement here going towards the Clinton campaign.
Not that they're moving away from Barack Obama, but that the numbers of people who are actually going to be involved in this is really going to be quite amazing. So, they think that there is a possibility this could be a competitive race.
LEMON: Very interesting.
Suzanne Malveaux in Honolulu.
Thank you, Suzanne.
KEILAR: While he's closing in on the Republican nomination, John McCain still hasn't sealed the deal.
CNN's Dana Bash is on the campaign trail in Columbus, Ohio, with more on McCain's battle with Mike Huckabee.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John McCain and his campaign might be making the case that he already has the Republican nomination totally sowed up, but the reality is he still doesn't have that 1,191 delegates he really needs to officially be the Republican nominee. So today's primary and caucus contests, which adds up to 56 delegates at stake on the Republican side, they really do matter to him, because he's trying to inch as close as he can in contest by contest to get to that official number to make him the nominee.
So that's why John McCain spent the morning in the state of Wisconsin, which, of course, is voting today. He was making the case to supporters that they can't be complacent, that they've got to get out and vote.
Part of that is because they are concerned inside the McCain campaign that Mike Huckabee has been campaigning very, very hard in Wisconsin and elsewhere, and that there are still some conservatives who don't like and don't trust John McCain who might be willing to cast a protest vote. So, in order to not be embarrassed by today or any other contest as he tries to seal the nomination, John McCain is still campaigning in Wisconsin, and then he'll come here to where I am in Ohio. This state has its primary in two weeks, on March 4th.
But meanwhile, as he's campaigning, the issue of Cuba and Fidel Castro announcing that he is going to resign, that has become a big part of the narrative on the campaign trail, and John McCain talked about it with reporters.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a great opportunity for Cuba to make a transition to a democracy, to empty their political prisons, to invite human rights organizations into the country, and begin the transition to a free and open society. And allow the people of Cuba the same opportunity that people all over the world deserve.
BASH: Now, for a Republican running for president saying that, that Fidel Castro stepping down or resigning is certainly a good first step, but that a lot more needs to happen, that is really par for the course. That is standard fare for a Republican, particularly somebody like John McCain, who, from his experience back campaigning in the Florida primary, understands how to appeal to that small, but very powerful, Cuban-American base that he didn't just need in the primary, he also will need in the general election, because Florida is always a swing state.
Dana Bash, CNN, Columbus, Ohio.
KEILAR: And you can be the first to know the results in tonight's primaries and caucuses. Sign up for CNN breaking news e- mail alerts and you'll know when we know. Just sign up at CNN.com, and tune in at 8:00 for live coverage from CNN's Election Center.
LEMON: Amtrak is taking a tough new approach to security. So, if you travel the rails, you could soon see armed patrols and have your carry-on bags screened just like at the airport.
KEILAR: In Reno, Nevada, a young woman is attacked and killed, possibly by a serial rapist. Now her family is speaking out.
KEILAR: Fidel Castro's losing his titles, but will he still be pulling the strings? Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart thinks so. The Florida Republican is joining us now on the phone.
And Congressman, thanks so much for being with us. We really appreciate it.
I want to ask you right off the bat, we've heard sort of differing opinions on this. Some people are saying, you know, one Castro is the same as another. That if Fidel is gone, Raul will take over and it's not going to make a difference. But some people say it will make a difference, even if it's just incremental.
What do you make of these differing opinions? REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART (R), FLORIDA: Well, first of all, what's going to be important is to gauge changes when actually the political prisoners are released and political parties and the press and labor unions are legalized, and steps are taken toward a free election. Then we can talk about change. With regard to -- and that, by the way, is the objective of U.S. policy, a genuine Democratic transition in Cuba.
With regard to titles that Fidel Castro has accumulated over the decades, and now because of the fact that he clearly is very ill and immobile, that he's -- he's giving up, you know, the titles have never been the source of his power. He is the source of power of that totalitarian dictatorship, but he had the totalitarian power, absolute power, before he had these titles. As a matter of fact, he didn't use the titles of president and president of his council and state, didn't even create this council of state nor the puppet parliament until 1976.
KEILAR: But what -- do you have -- this real change that you talk about, do you have faith that that's going to be happening in the near future, or is that going to take a long, long time?
DIAZ-BALART: Well, one never has -- you know, no one has a crystal ball as to when, but I know it's inevitable. I mean, you can't -- you can't keep a totalitarian system like that, that's absolutely controlled by one man, where every decision has been made for 50 years by one man. You know, that can't be -- quite frankly, that can't be transferred, that kind of power.
And so what I want to say with regards to now his ceding these titles is, yes, it demonstrates he's very ill. But, you know, he didn't need the titles before he had them, and he certainly is not going to need the titles to have total power while he's still alive.
The key for Cuba and the reason that now the international community -- I think President Bush was very clear today, I think President Sarkozy in France was very clear -- the key for the international community now is to unite, to press for freedom for all the political prisoners, and for free elections in Cuba.
KEILAR: Now, when Fidel Castro was sick here, about a couple years ago, Little Havana just went crazy. You had people cheering in the streets. We've been speaking with one of our correspondents, Susan Candiotti, who is down there today, and there are some people there, not as many, of course, not as loud, definitely.
What are you hearing from your friends and your constituents?
DIAZ-BALART: Well, a year and a half ago, more than a year and a half ago, it seemed that he was going to die. And as a matter of fact, you know, he's admitted that he almost died. But he didn't.
And I think what people are cognizant of is the fact that that totalitarian, absolute power has been, for half a century, his, Fidel Castro's. And that's why his passing physically is a very important step. And that's why people obviously were very hopeful when he almost passed over a year and a half ago.
KEILAR: And Congressman, I apologize for this, but we're up against a hard break, so I'm going to have to cut you off and leave it there.
DIAZ-BALART: Thank you.
KEILAR: But Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
LEMON: An announcement from Amtrak on new security measures. What you'll see at the station, next.
LEMON: Experts say the Navy has a good shot at taking out a rogue spy satellite with a missile, and that could happen as early as tomorrow night Eastern Time. The Pentagon's already warning ships and planes to stay clear of a large area in the Pacific, west of Hawaii. If that shot misses, Pentagon officials say they may get another chance before the faulty satellite falls to Earth.
We expect to hear more in just a few minutes when the Pentagon press secretary briefs reporters. In a few minutes.
KEILAR: As for the shuttle astronauts, they say they are not a bit worried. By this time tomorrow, they should be back on the ground, well ahead of any missile launch by the Navy. Here's what the shuttle commander, who also happens to be a commander in the Navy, had to say about it all...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN N. FRICK, COMMANDER, SHUTTLE ATLANTIS: Well, of course, my first thought when -- when we talk about that is, go, Navy. Both Captain Poindexter and myself are obviously very excited about the -- the upcoming event they're going to have with the -- with the satellite.
We're interested to see how it happens. We're not concerned about it, certainly. We're going to be safely on the ground, and the space station is going to be safely well above the deorbiting satellite. But it will be interesting to watch -- watch it and see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: If you ride the rails, you may be seeing some new faces and some new scrutiny. Amtrak has just announced additional security measures for train travel. It's deploying a specialized mobile security team to supplement patrols that are already in place.
Team members will screen passengers and also conduct random baggage searches. Canine units may also be brought in to sweep trains for explosives. Amtrak says these new measures are not in response to any new or specific threat.
LEMON: So here's the question. What happens next for Cuba's economy? And who stands to benefit with Fidel Castro stepping down?
Our Susan Lisovicz will explain the scenarios.
You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.
KEILAR: Fidel Castro is stepping down, but will Cuba's economy at long last open up? Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange to break it down for us.
But, first, a check of the market, right, Susan?
SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it's not too painful today, Brianna. Stocks are higher after the three-day weekend, but unfortunately so were oil prices. Right now, up more than $4 a barrel to above $99 per barrel on concerns OPEC will cut output. But still, with less -- less than two hours to go, the Dow Industrials are holding on, up 78 points.
The Nasdaq, meanwhile, is up five points. Herzfeld Caribbean Basin fund, ticker symbol C-U-B-A., CUBA, is up 20 percent at the Nasdaq. It invests in companies that do business in that region. Imperial sugar, meanwhile, is up one percent. American businesses, of course, have been anxious to return to Cuba ever since the U.S. put an embargo in place in the early 1960s.
Here's Cuba by the numbers. It's an island nation with about 11 million people. Its GDP was $45 billion in 2007, less than half of one percent of the U.S. economy. Because it is a Socialist country, unemployment there, less than two percent. But annual per capita income, only about $10,000, although living standards may be even lower because the Brookings Institution says it's tough to gauge buying power in a Socialist country.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba opened itself up to tourism, that accounts for much of its growth. Its main exports, nickel, sugar and tobacco. Of course it's world-famous Cuban cigars, that you can't get here but you can get everywhere else in the world -- Brianna.
KEILAR: That's so striking -- $45 billion GDP. That's one-third of the economic stimulus package, roughly, that was just signed into law and just goes to show you.
LISOVICZ: Good point.
KEILAR: But I'm wondering ...
LISOVICZ: And that's one percent, right?
KEILAR: Amazing how one percent of our GDP, of the U.S. GDP. I'm wondering what is the thought among -- the prevailing opinion among experts? Is it that Cuba will eventually have a free-market system like in the U.S. or not?
LISOVICZ: Well, I think that's certainly the hope. And I think that's the hope for a lot of people there. We spoke to an expert, Brianna, from the Brookings Institution who says that there are two paths that Cuba can take. It can move gradually, the path that China has taken with incremental reforms and liberalizations, or it can take an approach similar to what eastern Europe did.
Eastern Europe had many more bumps along the road, very quickly. But Cuba's economy is much more similar to those countries than it is to China's, which is 80 percent agriculture based. And, don't book any trips, of course, to Havana just yet, the State Department says the U.S. embargo will remain in place.
In the next hour, if you're a baby boomer and hoping to retire and maintain a similar lifestyle, it may be time for a reality check. And I'll explain that in the next hour of NEWSROOM -- Brianna.
KEILAR: All right, looking forward to it. Susan Lisovicz, as always, good to see you.
LEMON: All right. Let's bring in now a man who has met Fidel and Raul Castro several times and has followed their rise to power. Hal Klepak is a history and warfare studies professor at the Royal Military College in Canada. And he is in Havana right now, and he joins us via broadband.
You have met both men several times. Last time, I think, you saw Fidel Castro, you said, was ten years ago. Since you've met him, have you seen his power -- the waning of his power? Has it been gradual over these years for you, or was it a rapid decline since he became ill not long ago?
HAL KLEPAK, EXPERT ON CUBAN HISTORY: Well, I think he actually handed over power, for all intents and purposes, when he was ill. Exactly what he had said would happen, happened, that is he passed power on to his second in command, who had been named in September of '59, to that post, the post that Cubans expected to have transferred to this gentleman, Raul himself.
So, I think that at that stage, you have the bulk of power passing very rapidly to -- to him and also to a group of people that Fidel had designated at the time. As always, there's been kind of a figure, many ways that people understand (INAUDIBLE) in the north. But some question of where power lies, the bulk of the power, remained on most issues with Raul on the day to day, I think for the last year and a half. But Fidel, I think, was retaining a veto power on major (INAUDIBLE) that might be taken (INAUDIBLE) reform.
LEMON: OK. Mr. Klepak, just so you know, it's via broadband, and we don't know how these things are going to work out. So we just want our viewers to be conscious of that and to bear with us here.
I want to talk about -- what I was asking you about, really, was just sort of his influence, not exactly just him giving his power over. His influence among people and even people who may have been supporters and then that change. But what I want to know -- is there a finality with all of this, even so -- even now because his brother, people say his brother will have just as much influence as he will and that nothing may change because his brother is just as much a dictator as Fidel?
KLEPAK: Well, I think it's useful for some people to use those terms, and I'm not suggesting in any way that Cuba is a democracy. But the reality is that Raul has a very different trajectory. I think there is a finality on the streets of Havana today. People are talking about the passing of an age and I think that's an accurate assessment and I think Cubans feel it very, very much indeed.
But at the same time, the transfer of power has occurred, and it's occurred to a man who has shown repeatedly in his life that he is capable of reform, that he believes in reform as long as it doesn't endanger what they consider the achievements of the revolution.
And from my perspective over the last 17, 18, 19 months and also the period before when after all, we know this man quite well over 50 years of close analysis, that there is every reason to expect change, as long as those changes do not damage the -- what they consider the achievements of the revolution.
LEMON: And Mr. Klepak, again, because you have met them, and not suggesting that you are friends with them at all, but you have met them several times. And many people we've spoken to have lived there, but not necessarily have met either of these men.
I don't know if you met them together or if it was separately, but what I'm wondering is if there's anything that you can share with our viewers about their relationship, about their closeness, about how they spend time together, if it was business, in front of, you know, certain people or if it was, you know -- they were friendly and close even if others were present as well.
KLEPAK: We're talking about a Latin American brothers' relationship. I think there's a great deal of love, not to mention admiration, particularly from Raul up to his brother. And I think many of the mistakes we've been making in our analysis over the last 19 months, have been as -- because we haven't understood this. This is a younger man, not very much younger, you'd argue, but a younger man who respects and loves his brother and will not do things which humiliate his brother in terms of reform. So I think that's the way we should see it.
I believe that they are relatively close, that they are true confidantes, one of the other, both on personal issues and on wider issues, but I can't prove that. And I believe that they will continue to support one another. That Fidel's -- it's not in Fidel's interest, or the kind of person that he is, to sabotage his brother's efforts and that they have shared a very long struggle in which we have found very, very few occasions indeed, even their most ferocious critics, where they have crossed swords on issues of policy. They obviously have different views on many issues and they respect one another's views on those interests -- on those questions, even if they disagree. But I know of very few occasions where they have had significant differences.
LEMON: Hal Klepak, thank you very much. And that was an interesting answer, people get some insight on these brothers' relationship, especially now that one is handing over power to the other.
We appreciate you joining us today in the CNN NEWSROOM.
And if you'd like to read Fidel Castro's full resignation letter, just go to CNN.com. You can also view an interactive timeline of his life and his rule, or share your thoughts in an I-Report. All that, CNN.com.
KEILAR: Those close to Brianna Denison ask for help in bringing her killer to justice. They're also determined to keep her spirit alive. The latest from Reno.
LEMON: All right, we have some new information. We've been reporting here on CNN that Billy Graham has been hospitalized, trying to get the shunt replaced for him that controls excess fluid to his brain. But we're hearing now, according to The Associated Press, Evangelist Billy Graham is back at his North Carolina home recovering from surgery to update the shunt.
This is Mission Hospital. A spokesperson there says he is recovering well, and physicians are pleased with his progress. He underwent surgery last Wednesday. And doctors say they will continue to calibrate the updated valve in his mountainside home retreat there. But, again, Billy Graham at home recovering, resting from surgery for an updated shunt. He's in his North Carolina home. We'll keep you updated right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.
KEILAR: We're also following a monumental change in the government of Cuba, but it may not change much of anything. As you know, if you've been watching CNN, Fidel Castro is giving up the presidency of the island nation that he's dominant dominated since the communist revolution of 1959.
His middle of the night announcement is the talk of Miami's Little Havana, but it's a far cry from 2006 when Castro underwent surgery and temporarily turned over power to his younger brother Raul. Then Cuban-Americans celebrated. Today feels a little less -- or a little anti-climatic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me, Castro is dead already.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We as Cuban-Americans don't call him president, we call him dictator, what he really is. But it does change -- it does show that he will no longer be in command. He will no longer be the leading force which he has been for so many years. And I think that -- that in itself is a positive thing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Uncertainty, happiness. I've been waiting 47 years from this. We don't know whether it's a trick from them. Whether it's reality. Hopefully, it's the truth and we'll see a change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Fidel Castro hasn't been seen in public since his health crisis 19 months ago. Raul Castro is almost certain to be named president when Cuba's national assembly convenes on Sunday.
And stories like this, of course, they have our international desk buzzing. Along with the blogs. So, for a bit of both let's go to CNN International's Isha Sesay. Hi, Isha, what do you have?
ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna.
On the heels of this major development that Fidel Castro is bowing out as Cuban's president we've been monitoring Cuban state television. And really, from what we've seen there's been very little to point to the fact that Fidel Castro's political era is coming to a close.
That is Cuban state TV you see there in the top left-hand corner of your -- of your TV screen. And earlier when we were watching it, it was a mix of soaps and a short time ago, there's an all-girls singing group providing the entertainment. We're also keeping an eye on some other Latin networks. Those are the other three you see there on your screen.
Venezuelan state TV there on the right. The top right-hand corner, and then there's Univision and Chilean TV. And the interesting thing to point out to our viewers is, despite the fact that Fidel Castro is seen by many in Latin America as a hero, these networks are largely going the course of business as usual.
This story is hardly dominating from what we're seeing. We're not seeing wall-to-wall coverage of this story. We've also been monitoring the blogosphere to get a sense of the reaction there, and I want to share you this by Mustang Bobby. He posted it on Shakespearesister.blogspot.com. And here's what Bobby had to say.
In the short term, today's news will mean a lot of excited talk and tearful hopes that at long last there might be a change. A change to what, though, is hard to tell. On Castrodeathwatch.com -- yes, this is a real Web site, we found this.
For those who think this means change and freedom in Cuba, it doesn't. Not until the entire Castro cabal is out. Sure, there will be some so-called reforms under Raul, but they will be nothing but meaningless window dressing. Now, the bottom line, Brianna, and to stress to our viewers is that only time will tell what the political and economic landscape of Cuba will look like. One thing we do know for sure is that, while Raul Castro has been acting as president, he has said that the country is in need of some structural changes. What that specifically means, we don't know. Time will tell.
Brianna, back to you.
KEILAR: All right. Isha Sesay, a very busy woman with all her eyes on those outlets. Thank you.
LEMON: Those close to Brianna Denison asked for help in bringing her killer to justice. They're also determined to keep her spirit alive. The latest from Reno.
LEMON: It's another big day in the race for the White House for the Democrats. Delegates are at stake in the Wisconsin primary and Hawaii's caucuses. Republican delegates are being chosen in Wisconsin and Washington state primaries. Candidates on both sides are also looking ahead to the big primaries coming up in Texas and Ohio on March 4th.
It's not Super Tuesday, but for all the campaigns, every delegate counts. In today's Democratic contest, 94 delegates are up for grabs. On the Republican side, 56 delegates are at stake. For the Democrats, those March 4th primaries are looming large indeed with the delegate race very tight.
Our new poll in Texas shows the battle for the 193 delegates at stake. There is a virtual dead heat. Look at that, 50 to 48 percent. That's as close as you can get, unless it was 50/50, right? The CNN/Opinion Research Survey has Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama 50 percent to 48 percent among likely primary voters.
On the Republican side in Texas, John McCain leads with 55 percent. Mike Huckabee has got 32 percent, and Ron Paul 11 percent -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Newly released audio tape reveals the final pleas for help from the victim of a suburban Chicago strip mall shooting.
KEILAR: Blue was Brianna Denison's favorite color, and that's why you see it all over Reno, Nevada, in her memory. As police search for the serial rapist they think may have killed her, some of those who knew the young woman best are speaking out.
Liz Wagner of affiliate KRNV has that.
LIZ WAGNER, KRNV REPORTER (voice-over): On Friday, Brianna's family heard the news. Authorities find a woman's body in a field in south Reno. On Saturday, their worst fears were confirmed. JOHN ZUNINO, BRIANNA DENISON'S UNCLE: You know, really is like somebody socked you right in the stomach and knocked the wind out of you.
WAGNER: Brianna's uncle and aunt spoke Monday for the first time since police identified her, misery to even relive the nightmare of the last four weeks. They came forward to ask the community to keep Brianna's spirit alive, to remember the girl they called the "light of their lives."
LAUREN DENISON, BRIANNA DENISON'S AUNT: Just a person that would have had an incredible legacy on our world, and I just want to keep that going for her.
WAGNER: The community does, too. Mourners made a makeshift memorial in the field where she was found. They arrived in droves, placing flowers, candles and teddy bears at the site, leaving tears and memories behind.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Close enough to be an angel. That's how I remember her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was a sincere girl. And when she talked to you, you knew her heart was in it.
WAGNER: Volunteers passed out blue ribbons to take the place of the missing posters and handed out descriptions of the man who took Brianna's life.
DENISON: Basically, you have a murderer still on the loose, and we won't rest until he's brought in. And so, as a community, as a family, we are going to help find this guy.
WAGNER: Back here at the memorial site, the outpouring of support continues to grow as friends and complete strangers try to make sense of this tragedy, and remember the girl who has touched their lives.
In Reno, I'm Liz Wagner.
KEILAR: Brianna Denison's relatives say her funeral will be private, but they are planning a public memorial service which may be held sometime this weekend.
LEMON: The final moments in a chilling store shooting in suburban Chicago captured on newly released tapes. The store's manager called 911 from her cell phone before being discovered by the gunman. These are believed to be her last words.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
911 DISPATCHER: 911 emergency?
MCFARLAND: Lane Bryant. 911 DISPATCHER: Where at?
MCFARLAND: Tinley Park, hurry!
911 DISPATCHER: Stay on the line, stay on the line. Let me get you to Tinley Park, don't hang up.
MCFARLAND: Hurry up!
(END AUDIO CLIP)
LEMON: A six woman (ph) who survived the attack gave police a description of the suspect who is still at large. He's believed to be 25 to 34-years-old, an African-American man. Police say he is a threat to others.
For the best crime coverage on the Web, check out CNN.com/crime. It is a new effort from our friends at TruTV and CNN.com. Go behind the police tape and into the courtroom like never before at CNN.com/crime.
KEILAR: Oil prices in triple digits just in to CNN, a new intraday high at the New York Mercantile Exchange, wanting to know if there's going to be a domino effect. We're keeping an eye on your financial security.
The news keeps coming, and we'll keep bringing it to you. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM
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