Acting Cuban president puts his own stamp on government
By Channel NewsAsia’s US Correspondent, Steve Mort | Posted: 11 August
2007 1452 hrs
MIAMI: Acting Cuban President Raul Castro is beginning to put his own
stamp on Cuba’s communist government.
But his pledges to implement economic reforms and improve relations with
the United States fall short of the dramatic political changes predicted
by many Cuban exiles in Florida 12 months ago.
Many Cuban exiles residing in Miami had hoped that Fidel Castro would
not live to celebrate his 81st birthday on 13 August 2007 when he was
hospitalised in July last year.
But pictures showing a recovering Fidel Castro have been appearing in
Cuba’s state newspaper, along with his newly written essays.
Raul Castro took the ailing leader’s place at the most recent National
Revolution Day celebrations – the first time Fidel Castro has missed the
event in 48 years.
Jamie Suchliki from the University of Miami said Raul Castro’s speech
indicates that the Communist Party maintains a strong grip on power.
He said: “People are afraid of him. The military is totally loyal to him
– the party apparatus he controls. So he has the levers of power and the
ministry of interior and the security. I think he can keep the pieces
together for an indefinite period.”
In Cuba, day-to-day life remains unchanged, despite predictions that
Fidel Castro’s illness would prompt an uprising against communist rule.
Raul Castro is even outlining his own long-term agenda, including
Chinese-style economic reforms, particularly in agriculture.
He admits that food shortages and low wages mean Cubans often struggle
to get by.
Cuban government statistics show that approximately 60 percent of farms
are state-run, but nearly 80 percent of Cuban-produced food comes from
Paolo Spadoni from Florida’s Rollins College said Raul Castro has
pledged to attract foreign investment and implement “structural and
conceptual changes” to fix the problem.
“Raul Castro will probably introduce some limited and gradual market
reforms…so I do see some changes, but I don’t see a complete and
sudden change of the system,” he said.
While showing a willingness to consider economic reform, Raul Castro has
a reputation as a political hardliner.
But Paolo Spadoni said he has allowed limited dissent in Cuban politics
since taking the helm.
“There has been a bit more political debate – debating the system, the
legalities, the corruption, the shortcomings of the system – and some
Cuban academics have been quoted in newspapers, providing some sort of
criticism of the system. This is something new,” he added.
Raul Castro has also made overtures towards the United States, even
calling for talks with the US once President Bush leaves office.
Fidel and Raul’s sister, Juanita Castro, lives in Miami and she believes
reforms may happen even without a change in government in Havana.
She said: “Right now, Raul is the only thing that we can have at this
moment. Perhaps he can produce the changes that the Cuban people need,
that our country needs, in order to live in the future in democracy.”
However, with little sign that Raul Castro is willing to hold democratic
elections, Cuban exiles seem resigned to the fact that a transition to
democracy may be many years away.