This week, Cuba will undergo a historical transition. Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel as president in 2008, will officially leave that office and Cuba’s National Assembly is to pick the country’s next leader — the first not bearing the Castro name in more than 60 years. While the change has great symbolism, Cubans’ economic hardship will continue to be top of the agenda for the new president who will likely stay on the path of economic liberalization, Cornell University experts say.
Gustavo Flores-Macias studies political development in Latin America with a focus on the politics of economic reform. He says that a younger generation of politicians in Cuba will have to contend with severe problems both domestically and in U.S.-Cuba relations.
“Raul Castro has promised he will step down as Cuba’s president this week. Since Raul will remain at the helm of both the country's Communist Party and the armed forces, the glacial pace of political and economic liberalization is expected to continue, at least in the short run.
“However, the changing of the guards will have major symbolism, as it will mark the start of the generational transition in Cuba.
“Without a Castro formally at the head of the Cuban government, a younger leader without the legitimacy of the revolution will have to navigate the island’s many domestic and international challenges, from resolving Cuba’s problematic dual currency system to weathering President Trump’s return to a Cold War antagonism in U.S.-Cuba relations.”
Lourdes Casanova is director of the Emerging Markets Institute at Cornell. She says that with Raul Castro still at the helm of party ranks, internal pressures may play a big role in the new president’s policy decisions.
“Trying to solve the Cuban economic recession will be Raul Castro’s successor biggest challenge. With an average salary of about $30 a month, Cubans’ demands for a better life will, quite likely, take center stage.
“Solutions to the economic crisis are limited, among other things, because of Trump’s hard stand towards Cuba. The new president may have no choice but to move towards a more market friendly economy.
“However, Raul Castro, generally considered a hardliner, will stay on as head of the Communist Party and from there, he will try to keep control on the new president’ policies. It remains to be seen how these internal politics will play out with the demands of Cubans for more political freedom and a better economy.”