Is Cuba really changing?
This past Sunday we witnessed what we had not heard one of the Castro brothers say in almost 54 years: Come 2018 neither one of them will be in power.
Raúl Castro announced to the Cuban National Assembly that this would be his last term ruling Cuba. Watching him closely was his brother Fidel who has become a symbol of the past.
A mostly under-the-radar faithful Communist Party leader by the name of Miguel Diaz-Canel known for his managerial skills was selected as the first vice president of the country and most likely the successor to Raúl Castro.
Since taking over power, Raúl Castro has named a number of party faithful to key government positions. Most of them were born after the start of the Cuban revolution. Many Cuba analysts, including me, would agree that we underestimated Raúl Castro’s management skills.
We all knew he did not have the charisma and leadership style needed to succeed his brother Fidel. Yet he has proven to be a good strategist by planning and selecting a new breed of Cuban leaders to follow him and Fidel.
In the months to come we will continue to see more changes and more youthful people continue to be appointed to key positions in the government. One big challenge this new cadre of leadership faces is how to revive a moribund economy.
First up: They will have to create an infrastructure in order to implement their economic reforms. In addition, they will have to strengthen their business laws, banking system, justice system, business environment, just to mention a few of the requirements to attract foreign investment that’s looking for stability not laws that change at the whim of the Castros.
One very big challenge will be getting the military to loosen control of most of the country’s economic activities. This will be a challenge for the “old guard” who have benefited from the spoils of the system now in place.
Putting people back to work in private enterprises will not be easy. Meeting the population’s basic needs will be crucial for any economic reforms to succeed. However, Cubans have one of the highest literacy rates in all of Latin America and a good entrepreneurial spirit.
The combination of both of these qualities will be very attractive to future business investors in Cuba. There is no question that Cuba will be very attractive to outsource business needs as well.
Going back to the point of how much Cuba is changing, Diaz-Canel and the other new leaders will have to deal with a country where the majority of the population does not believe in Marxist-Lennist doctrine. An “advanced socialist state,” as they call it, needs to be further defined.
How much power and influence will Raúl Castro give Diaz-Canel and others remains a key question.
If history is right, I will say Diaz-Canel’s authority will be very limited.
The country cannot wait five more years for major changes to take place.
Cuba and its upcoming leadership know that its major economic market is 90 miles to the north. Simple economic reforms without meaningful political reforms will not be enough. The clock is ticking fast, but Cuba seems to keep crawling instead of leaping forward.
Andy Gomez is a senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.