HAVANA (Reuters) Flags flew at half-staff yesterday as Cuba began three days of official mourning for late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in a show of solidarity with its fellow communist state.
The Council of State decreed the mourning period without comment and said flags would be lowered at all government buildings and military installations.
A book of condolences was opened at the North Korean embassy in Havana, with a big photo of the dead leader and flowers in the entrance.
Cuba and North Korea are two of the world’s last communist nations and have maintained good relations since establishing diplomatic ties in 1960, the year after Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution on the Caribbean island.
They were both on the United States list of state sponsors of terrorism until North Korea was removed in 2008.
Jong-il, 69, died of a heart attack Saturday and his son Kim Jong-un has been anointed the “Great Successor, continuing a line of succession that began with grandfather, North Korean founder Kim il-Sung.
Cuba is facing its own succession issues as it approaches a generational leadership change without much new blood waiting in the wings.
Cuba was ruled for 49 years by Fidel Castro, 85, who was succeeded by brother and then first vice president Raul Castro in 2008.
Under the constitution, if Raul Castro were to leave office tomorrow, 81-year-old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, current first vice president of the ruling Council of State, would succeed him until 2013, although he could be replaced sooner.
Government opponents said they feared Cuban leaders could circumvent the constitution and follow North Korea’s lead by quickly replacing Machado Ventura with a Castro family member.
“I hope that way of thinking does not take hold on the island,” said human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez. “But it could be that there are people thinking of that type of dynastic scheme with the children, grandchildren etc.”
“In these parts, as well, genealogy has been more determinate than ballot boxes, and the heritage of blood has left us, in 53 years, only two presidents both with the same last name,” wrote dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez.
“The dauphin over there is named Kim Jong-un; perhaps soon they will communicate to us that over here ours will be Alejandro Castro Espin. Just to think about it makes me shudder,” Sanchez said, referring to the son of Raul Castro.
But other Cubans discounted the possibility that the government would put another Castro in power, saying the Cuban system would not permit it.
“It is not possible that someone we don’t know can be president only because they are the son or daughter of Raul or Fidel, it’s impossible,” said public employee Manuel, who did give his full name.
“It doesn’t work that way here,” he said.