Cuba mourns death of North Korean leader

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.

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