On February 25, Raul Castro, Cuba’s president, announced that he will step down at the end of his five year presidential term in 2018, thereby formally ending the Castro regime, which has stood at the helm of Cuban government for over a half-decade.
Raul officially inherited the presidency in 2008, after two years of provisional governance during which Fidel, his brother, underwent multiple surgeries and eventually deemed himself too ill to continue his reign. Since then, Raul, somewhat of a modern Gorbachev, has taken steps to reinvigorate the bloodless Cuba without necessarily undermining its ideological stance as preserved by law.
In 2002, as a response to criticisms from the Bush administration, the rubber-stamp National Assembly amended the Cuban constitution to make nationwide socialism permanent; hence, Raul has had to apply incremental changes so as not violate constitutional mandate. Some reforms include lifting bans on private ownership of phones and computers, abandoning salary equality, relaxing land restrictions for farmers, and strengthening ties with both Russia and China which had slackened after the fall of the USSR.
Raul is more affable towards the United States, actively endeavoring to ameliorate relations between the Cuban and American governments, a desire which Barack Obama has reciprocated, by reducing travel restrictions to Cuba from the US. In November of 2011, Cuba passed a law which allowed Cubans to buy and sell private property, portentous of a creeping marketization.
Now, aged 81, Raul Castro, has emphasized the need to pass the gauntlet of Cuban governance to a younger generation. Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, 52, was promoted to first Vice President on the day that Castro affirmed his resignation, and is therefore expected to assume the role of president once Castro steps down. Bermudez is likely to follow in Raul’s footsteps, and inch the country closer to modernization; with this turnover of power, it may be that the last link to Fidel’s zealous ideology may be broken.
Bermudez is a competent engineer, and though he remains loyal to the Communist party, his attitude appears equable and reliable. Contrary to Fidel’s proclivity for panache, Bermudez is a pragmatist, and is therefore likely to prioritize Cuban economic and social recovery above hapless idealism. However, though Bermudez finds support among Cuban-Americans, who are desperate to see reform, many Americans and political analysts are skeptical of his ability to institute change; Raul Castro’s gradualism seems a likely path for Bermudez, yet the Cuban people are itching for more widespread social and political change.
As it stands, there is still a relatively low quality of life and little incentive to stay on the island; thousands of Cuban immigrants flock to the Florida coast each year, most of them illegal and yearning for the opportunities that America has been said to provide.
Bermudez will somehow need to find a way to balance the reactionary desires of Party leaders with the reformative inclinations of the Cuban public, and many think he is not up to the task. There is even doubt that he will end up being Cuba’s next President; the opacity of Cuba’s Communist government allows for unexplained changes in presidential hopefuls if they do not comply with the wishes of Party leadership. One can only hope that a reconfiguration of government will follow the resignation of Castro, thereby granting the possibility for concrete (democratic?) change.
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