Last night came the news that the sly old cat, 80-year old Fidel Castro, has “temporarily” relinquished control of Cuba in favor of his 75-year old brother Raul while “a sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding” requires him to go under the surgeon’s knife. The message, delivered on Cuban television by Castro’s aide-de-camp and not by Castro himself, immediately led to speculation that either Castro is ready to relinquish control entirely — or that, perhaps, he was already dead.

Meanwhile, the news was treated like it was “VE-Day” in the Little Havana section of Miami last night:

MIAMI, Aug. 1, 2006 — The horns blared. The crowd chanted “libertad” or freedom. And here were Cuban flags waving everywhere.

Many Cuban-Americans have waited 47 years to throw this street party. And after Fidel Castro’s secretary announced Monday that the Cuban president had temporarily relinquished his presidential powers to his brother Raul because of surgery, they lost no time scrambling to Miami’s Little Havana to celebrate together.

In the stifling heat and oppressive humidity of a Miami summer night a small elderly woman suddenly grabbed my cheek and planted a kiss on it. After 35 years in Miami of waiting for Castro to die she could hardly believe she may actually live to see the day.

“He is dead,” she told me in Spanish, graphically slashing her throat to emphasize the point.

Then she clasped her hands and looked to the sky and added, “I am asking God that it is true.”

(Via ABC News). The wave of recent Cuban press coverage of Raul Castro now leads Castro-watchers to speculate that the aging leader’s plan has been to get the Cuban people used to the idea that Raul will inherit power.

Of course, we know that shit never works. Oliver Cromwell tried to hand power over to his weak son Richard — it bombed. When Abdul Salam Arif died in a helicopter crash in 1966, Iraq would briefly have his brother Abdul Rahman Arif as their leader — but that only resulted in the rise of Saddam Hussein. (By the way, Arif the Lesser is turning 90 this year and is supposedly living in Iraq after years in Turkish exile. Has anyone heard from him?) Sons and brothers are more often than not poor substitutes; blood without the charisma is a recipe for national instability, and it might be a good bet that when Fidel is gone, there will be a wave of change that Raul will not have an opportunity to usher in.

Additional notes on Castro’s little vacation from the Washington Post; Voice of America; Xinhua; Financial Times; the Christian Broadcasting Network; VivirLatino; and Wonkette.

Oh, and what about the little brother? See this piece in The Times.