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Cuba: after Fidel, who?

By Rodrigo Acuña - posted Wednesday, 9 May 2007


Fidel Castro's non-appearance at this year's May Day rally confirms that, while the Cuban leader may have resumed some of his former duties, the “bearded one” is still quite frail.

Even if, in the next few days, weeks or even months, Castro makes a return as Cuban Head of State, many observers agree that he will drastically reduce his responsibilities and take on the lifestyle of an emeritus professor.

Castro's continuing stream of editorials indicate that, as long as his memory and body still respond to his will, the old rebel does not intend to move.

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Indeed, many respected Cubanophiles believe that, although the post-Fidel era is now well underway (proving that the Cuban Revolution is bigger than just one man) the changes in the coming months are certainly not the ones that the Bush Administration and many in Miami have long yearned for.

Having lived under his brother's colossal shadow, the younger Castro, Raúl, in recent months has spoken out against corruption and offered the US an olive branch as long as the “resolution is based on the principle of equality, reciprocity, non-interference and mutual respect”.

Traditionally viewed as a hardliner, Raúl Castro has recently developed a reputation as a pragmatist and leader who wants to take greater measures to improve Cubans' lives. At the end of 2006, Marc Frank, in an article for Reuters, wrote that “Raúl Castro [has] expressed frustration with bureaucracy, demanded answers to declining food output, urged Cuba's press to be more critical and authorised a study of socialist property relations”.

Whether Raúl is genuinely committed to these reforms remains to be seen, but even Brian Latell - a staunch critic of Havana and a former top Cuba analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) - has conceded that the younger Castro has been proceeding in a much bolder manner than expected, encouraging debate throughout the country and requesting university students to “fearlessly” discuss the island's problems.

Other, even younger Castro blood may indeed take up the call. Daughter of Raúl and the legendary guerrilla Vilma Espín , Mariela Castro is the Director of the National Sex Education Centre (Cenesex) and is a figure to watch in the future, according to Latin American analyst Richard Gott.

Speaking to Tom Fawthrop for The Christian Science Monitor last December, Mariela Castro conceded that bigoted attitudes towards homosexuals still exist among police - a situation in which she has personally intervened. She also stated:

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We have many contradictions in Cuba … [but] we need to experiment and to test what really works, to make public ownership more effective, rather than simply adopting wholesale free-market reforms.

But, even though Mariela has caught the international media's eye, it remains to be seen if she is appointed to a key position within a future (post-Fidel) Cuban Government.

One man who already holds much power is 55-year-old Carlos Lage. Noted for riding his bicycle to work, Lage, a trained pediatrician, is currently Executive Secretary of Cuba's Council of Ministers and is often described as the island's de facto Prime Minister. Having guided Cuba during the “special period” when it lost up to 80 per cent of its trade with the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries, Lage is also credited as having successfully negotiated a trade deal with Caracas which sees Cuban doctors work in Venezuela's slums in return for affordable oil.

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First published in New Matilda on May 2, 2007.



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About the Author

Rodrigo Acuña is a PhD candidate in International Studies at Macquarie University, Sydney. A recipient of Benchmark Prize in Hispanic Studies by the University of New South Wales, he was also runner up for Open Prose in the Unsweetened 2007 Literary Journal. He writes regularly on Latin American affairs and has presented seminars at various Australian universities on political developments in Venezuela, as well as other Latin American countries.

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