Castro responded with a ferocious outburst, calling the EU leadership ''fascists'' and ''bandits'' and saying that Europe's duty ''is to keep its mouth shut because the dumb cannot speak,'' according to the June 13 English edition of Granma, the Communist Party daily.
A senior State Department official said that while the department has reached no firm conclusions to explain Castro's behavior, the U.S. focus now is on how the global community should respond.
''We already share a common objective -- Cuba's democratic transition,'' the official said. ''What we want to pursue now, is a compatibility'' of policies and tactics. Among the issues that American and European officials will examine at a ministerial-level summit this week, he added, are ways that respective Cuba policies can ``complement each other in a more direct way.
''We have been very encouraged by [the EU's] statements,'' said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. ``We would hope that there would be not just strong words, but action.''
Ramón Colás, a former political prisoner who lives in Miami, said Castro's verbal attacks on Europe were designed to create an atmosphere of crisis within the island that would rally Cubans to support his 44-year-old revolution. ''He creates a crisis when one doesn't exist because it is during conflict that Castro is at his strongest,'' Colás said in a telephone interview. ``All this is for internal consumption. He is depicting himself as a victim.''
But even if Castro's succeeds in portraying the EU as his enemy, he will still face the widespread discontent among Cubans fueled by a tumbling economy that is pushing already difficult lives to the brink of the unbearable. ***
Both men are seen as orthodox party leaders intensely loyal to Castro. A former Cuban ambassador to the Soviet Union, Balaguer in particular has long wielded much influence inside the party, which is technically separate from the government but populated by the same players. Balaguer and Lazo also serve inside Cuba's government on the nation's supreme governing body, the Council of State that Castro heads as president. Lazo is also a first vice president on that council.
As the party's first secretary for Havana for nearly a decade, Lazo has been heavily involved in the government's ''battle of ideas,'' an ongoing ideological campaign launched during the international custody battle over the boy Elián González, who returned to his family in Cuba in June 2000. The ongoing ideological campaign seeks to engage Cubans, particularly younger ones, in national politics and generate support for Castro and his policies.
It was not immediately clear what the move meant, but it follows by days the replacements last week of two Cabinet members -- the ministers of finance and transportation -- with younger people. Balaguer, who served in the rebel army that fought during the revolution that brought Castro to power in January 1959, represents a slightly older generation of leaders, known as ''históricos'' for their role in Cuba's revolutionary history. Lazo, although just 12 years younger, joined the party as a young man just four years after Castro formed his revolutionary government. One of the most visible black leaders in Cuba's power structure, Lazo has spent most of his adult years as a labor leader and as a regional party leader. [End]