Opinion | A New Cuba After the Castros? Not Quite

Opinion | A New Cuba After the Castros? Not Quite


It’s been 60 years since anyone other than a Castro was at the head of the Cuban state, so the installation of Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez as president in Havana this week does rank as a symbolic moment. But not much more, at least for the moment.

Rául Castro, who handpicked this loyal apparatchik as his successor, remains at the helm of the Communist Party and the armed forces; his son runs the intelligence services; his ex-son-in-law runs the military’s vast business interests. In his first speech, Mr. Díaz-Canel vowed there would be no “capitalist restoration” and concluded with a slogan that has not roused the masses for some time now: “Socialism or death! We will triumph!”

Yet the history of Communist regimes suggests that once the revolutionary old guard passes on, change is possible. Rául Castro, the late Fidel Castro’s younger brother, is 86, and there is no certainty that his kith and kin can carry the torch once he’s gone, especially since the flame is flickering.

In his 10 years as president, Rául Castro opened the economy a crack to private investment and private enterprise, but without lifting the state’s firm and onerous centralized control. The Soviet Union was no longer around to prop up the economy, and Venezuela, which for a time filled the void, descended into its own economic hell. And President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba has been partly reversed by President Trump. The result, according to a study by Richard Feinberg of the Brookings Institution, is a “persistent stagnation” that has left Cuba further and further behind the world on most fronts.

Mr. Díaz-Canel, 58, was not yet born when the Castro brothers waged their guerrilla war from the Sierra Maestra mountains.

It is far too early to tell whether this will eventually produce a Cuban reformer in the mold of Mikhail Gorbachev or Deng Xiaoping, or whether Mr. Díaz-Canel proves to be simply a place-holder for another generation of Castros.

Mr. Obama took a long overdue step in 2014 when he moved to normalize relations with Cuba. Rather than seek to reverse course, Mr. Trump should join with Cuba’s other neighbors to encourage the new Cuban leader to expand the private economy, release political prisoners, increase access to the internet, decentralize power and in other critically needed ways finally break his country out of the Castro cocoon.



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