Among other conditions that must be met under Helms Burton are: legalization of all political activity; release of all political prisoners, international inspections of Cuban prisons, and the abolition of the Ministry of Interior, its State Security branch and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution as well as the requirement that Cuba must hold free, fair and internationally supervised elections within 18 months after the transition government assumes power.
A State Department spokesman said Monday that Raúl Castro’s promise to step down was not “a fundamental change” because the Cubans have not outlined concrete measures that would lead to democratic rule.
“We remain hopeful for the day that the Cuban people get democracy, when they can have the opportunity to freely pick their own leaders in an open democratic process and enjoy the freedoms of speech and association without fear of reprisal,” said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell. Still, Brian Latell, a retired CIA analyst, called Castro’s announcements “the most significant political developments” since Fidel Castro withdrew from power in 2006 and the move “will enhance the regime’s prestige abroad, and most likely also on the island. With a long-term succession plan now in place, potential foreign investors will be more interested and pressure could build in the U.S. against the embargo.”
Phil Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute in Washington, said the projected transition from Raúl Castro to Diaz-Canel means the U.S. government should stop waiting for the Cuban regime to collapse and instead “engage it critically.”
“What this change does is to provide a path to transition and the opportunity for a smooth succession to the next generation of leadership. There may be other changes in this direction too,’’ he said.
But others were skeptical of any changes during Castro’s rule over the next five years or even that he would retire as promised and Diaz-Canel would take over.
Carmelo Mesa-Largo, regarded as the dean of Cuban economists in the United States, and Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a Havana dissident and economist, said Diaz-Canel seems to have no power base other than Castro’s backing.
“This is just a formula to say that we’re giving an opportunity to young people,” Espinosa Chepe said. “The problem is not to appoint young people. The problem is to appoint people with an open mind who can fix a broken system.”
And while an orderly transition to continuing socialism might not be the scenario that many exiles dreamed of, Juan Clark, a professor emeritus at Miami Dade College and a Bay of Pigs veteran, said the future of Cuba is very fluid.
There could be an unanticipated move by the Cuban military, Cuba could discover commercially viable oil deposits, or a successor to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez could cut off subsidized oil.
“Who knows? We may see things in Cuba we didn’t consider possible,’’ Clark said.
Miami Herald staff writer Luisa Yanez and McClatchy News Service reporter Hannah Allam contributed to this story.