Fidel Castro retires as president of Cuba
After nearly 50 years in power, Fidel effectively hands the reins to his younger brother, Raul Castro.
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This is likely to remain the status quo until Castro eventually dies, say some. For now, Fidel Castro will not disappear from the scene. He won a parliament seat during elections in January, and will likely be elected to the 31-member Council of State.Skip to next paragraph
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"[Raúl] is more of an admirer of Chinese-style reforms, which Fidel has been wary of, so we've seen a situation in Cuba over the years in which some reforms have been pushed by Raúl, and pushed back by Fidel later on," says Ian Vasquez, the director of the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington. "And part of the issue there is that to the extent that you introduce changes you create constituencies for continued change."
Others are more hopeful that small, if limited, economic reform is possible while Fidel Castro is still alive. "I think this opens the door for some incremental changes by Raúl, that wouldn't have been possible while Fidel was still president," says Mr. Erikson. "On the economic side, [it includes] implementing minor economic reforms such as opening up farmers markets, or small-fee capitalism, incremental grass-roots steps. But nothing that approaches what China has done."
Castro's resignation is expected to make way for the permanent presidency of his brother. But other leaders could fill the spot or at least rise in the ranks of power. They include Carlos Lage, the council's vice president, or Ricardo Alarcón, the president of Cuba's National Assembly. In any case, Mr. Peters says that a form of collective leadership will likely emerge, no matter who carries the title.
Analysts say Cubans will take a wait-and-see approach. "But people are expecting something to change," says Mr. Hays. "And they want things to happen quickly. If [the new leadership] doesn't show progress, it could be a difficult path."
Traveling in Africa, President Bush said Tuesday: "The international community should work with the Cuban people to begin to build institutions that are necessary for democracy.... Eventually, this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections – and I mean free, and I mean fair – not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as true democracy."
But analysts don't expect a change in political structures; no one in the Cuban leadership has even hinted that it's a priority of the transition. "They have put economic reform on the agenda," says Peters. "The whole drama of this year is going to be whether they deliver or disappoint."