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Cuba’s Next Steps: Is Real Reform on the Way?

With Fidel Castro saying he will resign from the highest positions of government, an era of almost 50 years comes to an end in Cuba. Castro was elected last year to the National Assembly of People’s Power (Cuba’s legislative body) and will surely retain that position. He will not, however, be nominated as or serve any longer as President of the Council of State and Commander in Chief.

The Assembly was scheduled to select the leadership positions on Feb. 24. By his resignation, Castro preempts any potential debate over the succession of power.

Castro’s brother, First Vice President Raul Castro, 76, has been serving as acting president since the elder Castro became ill. The former president, however, can be expected to continue to write opinions that he issues periodically, known as Reflections of the Commander in Chief — an appellation that will need amending.

Raul took part with Fidel in the attack on the Moncada Garrison on July 26, 1953, the failed attempt to set off an insurrection against the coup staged by General Fulgencia Batista in 1952. The Castro brothers were jailed, but later released in a general amnesty. They then moved to Mexico to plan an expedition that would lead to the creation of a guerrilla force in the eastern mountains of the Sierra Maestra.

In 1959 Batista fled the country. Eventually, Fidel became Prime Minister and later President; Raul took over the command of the Armed Forces until the present. Raul thus ascends to leadership with the support of the military assured. He also can count on substantial acceptance from the population, as he has made clear his intentions to institute reforms, including structural reforms.

Various news reports indicate that there remains skepticism on the island about whether Raul will institute real reform. The fact is, however, that Raul would find it difficult not to follow through. Last year he called for open and far-reaching debate among the people, and thousands of consultations and discussions were held throughout the island. Writers and artists have made public their views concerning what changes are needed, as have economists, representatives of organizations such as that of the private-sector small farmers, and even the official newspaper, Granma. The most popular and, in most people’s opinions, best newspaper on the island, Juventud Rebelde, for months has been publishing a series of hard-hitting and in-depth exposes of shortcomings in the system.

People’s expectations have been raised, and the institution of some reforms even before now point to a continuation and deepening of the process. The most likely first reforms of large scale will probably focus on the holding and farming of agricultural land. Food production is a continuing concern in Cuba, and the most productive lands are those worked by small farmers and cooperatives in the private sector. Public discussion thus far points to a probability that more land will be turned over to them and that economic incentives will be created to further stimulate production.

It can be expected also that another current Vice-President, Carlos Lage, 57, whose portfolio includes economic planning as well as diplomatic functions, will occupy a major space in the new government.

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