Raul Castro Steps Down

For over three decades, the country of Cuba was led by the Communist leader Fidel Castro. As made public in 2008, Fidel Castro had to step down from the presidency due to a rapid decline in his health. Immediately following his stepping down, his brother, Raul Castro succeeded him as the President of Cuba. It was uncertain how long Raul Castro would remain as the President, but as of Sunday February 24, 2013, Raul Castro has stated that he plans to step down from the presidency after one more five-year term.

This important announcement reveals an effective end date to the reign of Castro power in Cuba, which effectively began with Fidel Castro in 1959. The 81 year old President surprised everyone when he revealed that this is part of a new plan to put in place both a two-term limit and age cap on all political offices, including the presidency. These changes are among many extreme changes that Castro intends on making to the Cuban political system. Some changes might be so radical that they would require a referendum of the Cuban people to ratify them before they could be made official.

However, Americans should not be too hopeful of a new Cuba based on Capitalist values. When any suggestion was made that Cuba might abandon socialism sometime in the near future, Castro quickly and firmly denied the possibility. He simply said, “I was not chosen to be president to restore capitalism to Cuba. I was elected to defend, maintain, and continue to perfect socialism, not destroy it.”

Continuing his radical announcement, Castro essentially named 52-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel as the man who would be his successor. Diaz-Canel replaced 81-year-old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura who fought alongside the Castros in the Sierra Maestra. Castro praised Machado Ventura for stepping down and allowing a new young leader to move up in the ranks. Diaz-Canal has already risen higher than any other Cuban official who was not a direct participant in the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.

Castro characterized the promotion of Diaz-Canal as, “a definitive step in the configuration of the future leadership of the nation through the gradual and orderly transfer of key roles to new generations.” This represents a genuine desire to equip and empower younger generations in Cuba with the ability to continue building the socialist empire.

The people of Cuba are usually quite skeptical about political announcements, but the response to Castro’s announcement seemed to be overwhelmingly positive. Many would say that despite the complicated process necessary to make these changes they feel that the announcement was very important to Cuba. Representing much of Cuban thought, 48-year-old Regla Blanco stated, “[y]ou thought that with all these old men, it would never end. I am very satisfied with what Raul said.”

If Castro is true to his word, his resignation occurring in 2018 could have dramatic effects internationally, specifically the U.S.-Cuba ties that have been created over the past few decades. For 51 years the United States has had an economic embargo with Cuba, which specifies that it cannot be lifted at any point while a Castro is still in charge of Cuba. While the possibility of change exists, many Cuban-Americans are skeptical that any major difference will occur. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American Republican in Florida called this announcement a ploy. She cautions the United States against making any major changes regarding the isolation of the Cuban regime stating, “there will be no real change for the Cuban people so long as the Castro brothers remain in any form of leadership position, even behind the scenes.”

Even before making this announcement, Castro has been active in making changes since he took over from Fidel. He has made economic and social changes, expanded private enterprise, legalized a type of real estate market, and even relaxed some travel restrictions. Adding this announcement to the list, it is certain that Cuba will be a country that should be watched in the upcoming years.