Raul Castro is stepping down as Cuba’s president, a position he has held since his late brother Fidel Castro’s resignation in 2008. Cuba's parliament has selected Miguel Díaz-Canel as the sole candidate to succeed him, ending the family's six-decade long rule.
Cuba is situated in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean meet. It is south of both the US state of Florida and the Bahamas, west of Haiti, and north of Jamaica. The territory was initially inhabited by the Ciboney tribes in the 14th century and by various American tribes until the 15th century. Since the 15th century, the country was colonized by Spain until the Spanish–American War of 1898, when Cuba gained independence as a de facto United States protectorate in 1902. Cuba made many attempts to strengthen its democratic system, and the rampant political radicalization and social strife ended in the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
Unrest and instability following Batista's ousting in January 1959, which led to the establishment of communist rule under the leadership of Fidel Castro. Since 1965, the nation has been governed by the Communist Party of Cuba. Cuba is one of the few remaining Marxist–Leninist socialist countries, where the role of the frontline Communist Party is protected by the Constitution.
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was a politician and communist revolutionary who led the Republic of Cuba as Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as President from 1976 to 2008. Politically, Castro was a Marxist–Leninist and a Cuban nationalist. He also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from 1961 until 2011. Under his administration, Cuba became a one-party communist state, with nationalized industry and business and state socialist reforms.
Castro brought about policies surrounding central economic planning and expanding healthcare and education, while giving the state total control of the press and suppressing internal dissent. He is known for his support for anti-imperialist revolutionary groups, backing the establishment of Marxist governments in Chile, Nicaragua, and Grenada. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Castro led Cuba through the economic downturn of the "Special Period", embracing environmentalist and anti-globalization ideas. In the 2000s, Castro strengthened alliances across Latin America, mainly with Hugo Chávez's Venezuela, and signed Cuba up to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas. In 2006, Castro transferred his responsibilities to his brother, Vice President Raúl Castro, who was elected to the presidency by the National Assembly in 2008.
Castro was the longest-serving non-royal head of state in the 20th and 21st centuries. He was viewed locally as a visionary and champion of socialism and anti-imperialism. While the Castros’ revolutionary regime was seen to provide economic advancements and social justice while securing Cuba's independence from American imperialism, the brothers, namely Fidel Castro, was considered a dictator whose administration saw human-rights abuses, the exodus of many Cubans, and the impoverishment of the country's economy.
Raul Castro took the role as Cuba’s 18th president in 2008 at a time where its residents were not allowed to own computers or cellphones, leave without permission, or engage in private businesses. Over the subsequent decade, Castro transformed the nation by introducing a new system that helped open Cuba to the world. However, when Castro steps down after serving two terms as president, it is believed that he will leave his successor several problems that are deeper than from the time Fidel Castro handed over his power.
Cuba has seen rapid economic advancements in the recent past. It has close to 600,000 private entrepreneurs, an active real estate market and one of the fastest-growing airports. The country’s foreign debt has also been paid. Despite the developments, Cuba's Soviet-style command economy still produces very little. Private sector growth has been largely frozen. The average monthly state salary is US$31, which is considered extremely low by international standards. Foreign investment continues to be weak and infrastructure is in poor conditions.
Castro's inability or unwillingness to fix Cuba's structural glitches with effective reforms has many leaders wondering how a successor will manage the country over the next 5 - 10 years. Raul Castro is expected to remain a powerful influence in the country even after he steps down. The National Assembly has nominated Miguel Díaz-Canel to formally take over as president. However, Castro will remain as head of the Communist Party until its next elections in 2021.
Miguel Díaz-Canel will take over a country in economic stagnation and with a young population that is impatient for change. He will also be faced with the complex task of leading the nation without the same revolutionary past as built by Raul and Fidel. Díaz-Canel was first appointed vice-president of Cuba's Council of State in 2013, but he has since become Castro's key ally. For the past five years, he has been groomed for the role of president and the handover of power. Additionally, Raul Castro has praised his "ideological firmness."
The biggest challenges for Díaz-Canel, at least in the short term, are economic. He will need to tackle a complex dual currency system. The process is expected to come into force next year. Eliminating dual currency is seen as a necessary measure for Cuba's economy to grow, but it carries risks of inflation. The new leader must also try to stimulate the stagnant economy. He will be required to assess means to overcome the problems caused by the economic collapse of Cuba's socialist ally, Venezuela, as well as what kind of relationship Cuba should have with the US under the Trump administration.
Last year, US President Donald Trump imposed certain travel and trade restrictions with Cuba, which were earlier eased by the Obama administration. However, this move did not reverse key diplomatic and commercial ties. According to US Homeland Security statistics, the United States received 463,502 Cuban immigrants between 2006 and 2016, with thousands of others moving to countries like Spain and Ecuador.
Our assessment is that Cubans will evaluate their new leader on whether their day-to-day lives would improve. Cuba would have to ensure consistent economic growth while maintaining social stability and controlling its currency. However, Cuba's next president is expected to follow Castro’s political model and is unlikely to enforce any major changes in the short term, especially when Raul Castro remains a political force until 2021. We note that direct democracy is a distant dream for Cuba, despite its political changes. The pace of economic reform has been slower than promised and Venezuela’s struggles have hit Cuba hard in terms of trade. It is believed that Cuba’s political future depends on the strength of its economy.
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