No Castro sightings yet in Cuba

Cuban police officers patrol the Malecon, an oceanfront boardwalk in Havana, Cuba. Cuba's communist leadership launched a campaign Friday emphasizing the revolutionary roots of Fidel Castro's brother and designated successor, attempting to reassure Cubans that the regime remains stable after Fidel Castro's hospitalization.

? The communist leadership assured Cubans on Friday that Raul Castro was in firm control as acting president, and the health minister said Fidel Castro was “recovering satisfactorily” from intestinal surgery.

The government also issued its first decree since Fidel temporarily stepped down Monday for the first time in 47 years: The Foreign Ministry condemned Israel’s bombing of the Lebanese village of Qana, calling it “cowardly, vile and criminal” and urging the world to force an immediate cease-fire.

The statement came as the government insisted it was operating normally, even though the island’s longtime leader temporarily has ceded power to his younger brother Raul, the defense minister.

Some Cuban exiles, seizing on the unprecedented transfer of power, called for the U.S. government to do more to encourage a democratic transition on the island. But Cuba’s government appeared undaunted.

“The unity and strength of the Revolution is being reinforced,” said Granma, the Communist Party newspaper.

“We Cubans are prepared for the defense : and Raul is there firmly at the helm of the nation, of the Revolutionary Armed Forces,” Granma said.

Health Minister Jose Ramon Balaguer, a longtime party leader and physician, said Fidel “underwent surgery from which he is recovering satisfactorily.”

During a visit to Guatemala, Balaguer said in a radio interview that Cuban officials had received “messages of support from the most far-flung places of the world” since Fidel fell ill.

Neither Castro brother has appeared publicly since the 75-year-old Raul was given temporary stewardship of Cuba.

Culture Minister Abel Prieto urged people to be patient.

“We need to wait for Fidel’s next message,” he told journalists at a presentation of musician Silvio Rodriguez’s latest CD. “And Raul will appear in due time : people know who Raul is.”

Prieto emphasized that things were running smoothly in Cuba.

“This is a society that is functioning, that is working normally,” he said. “People are worried, and wanting to know more about the health of Fidel, but at the same time, they are conducting themselves appropriately.”

Granma rejected President Bush’s call for democracy on the island, saying his statement Thursday ignored that Cuba is functioning normally.