Cuba Prepares for a New Political World March 11, Cubans will go to the polls as the country continues to move towards a new political reality. Then, on April 19, the freshly elected National Assembly will select a new president.

For the first time in nearly 60 years, that president will not be a member of the Castro family. In 2013, Raúl Castro announced he would retire at the end of his second term as president of Cuba. Coming at a time of tension in the economic and social spheres, Cubans are bracing for a period of transition.

Businesswoman Marta Deus of Deus Accountants explains: “We don’t know who the new president will be, but I hope it will be a young person who understands the social changes going on in the world.”

Castro’s most likely successor is Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel. At 57, he is a youngster among the senior politicians of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), many of whom are old enough to have participated in Fidel Castro’s revolution.

Little is known about what Díaz-Canel believes or the direction in which he would take the country. However, in a leaked video of a PCC meeting, he is shown taking a hard line very much in keeping with traditional party values.

Another unknown is what Castro’s role will be in the future of Cuba. While it is true he is standing down as president, it is likely that he will remain head both of the armed forces and the PCC at least until 2021 when the next congress of the PCC will take place.

“Rául has tried to smooth the generational transmission by keeping some senior people in place while promoting younger people,” explains Professor William LeoGrande of the American University. But the measured pace of the transition Castro has set in motion makes for some uncertainty. Will the next president push through a reformist agenda, or will little change for the foreseeable future?

To complicate things further, this political uncertainty is happening against the backdrop of economic difficulties. Tourism from the U.S. has dropped precipitously since President Trump introduced tighter travel restrictions in 2017. The crisis in Venezuela is also harming the economy while foreign investment in Cuba remains minimal. All of this is in addition to the fallout from Hurricane Irene, which made landfall in 2017.

The government also appears to be stepping back from its limited economic reforms of recent years and has revoked the licenses of some of the new privately owned businesses. These actions have left Cuban entrepreneurs unsure what will happen next. “Things will change for the better because they have to,” says chef Niuris Higueras, who runs a restaurant in Havana.

Talking in February, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained that “Cuba has an opportunity in their own transfer of power from decades of the Castro regime to take a new direction.” He suggested that any future improvement in relations would depend on the current leadership transition.

There is little hope among Cubans for this kind of change. “Now is not a time for dreams,” explains actress Esther Cardoso, summing up the resignation many Cubans feel at the current situation. “It’s a time to make money and get by. That’s what Cuba has become today. It’s sad.”


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