Raul Castro, the pragmatist, takes Cuba's helm
The National Assembly elected Fidel's brother Sunday to be president in a vote that signals minor changes.
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Many analysts expect Fidel Castro to stand in the way of any deep reforms, as long as he continues to exert influence in essays published in the state-run media. Raul Castro has given speeches suggesting economic reforms or a willingness to negotiate with the US under certain terms, only to be contradicted by his older brother days later.Skip to next paragraph
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Alvaro Vargas Llosa, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute in Washington, says Fidel Castro's opinions cause an executive paralysis – and no one expects him to stop opining while he is alive. Just days after he resigned last week, Fidel Castro published comments ridiculing the US election and US calls for political change in Cuba.
"It is psychological pressure on the system to keep it as it is," says Mr. Vargas Llosa. He points to the fact that Raul Castro's rhetoric – on both the economy and the negotiating table – has not matched his actions. "He has not done anything to back those words and it can only be because of the paralyzing effect Fidel's [opinions] are having on the bureaucracy."
As the transformation is officially sealed, some hold out hope that under Raul there will be more room for a new generation of leaders. They include:
• Carlos Lage: As one of six vice presidents, many say he has carried out the day-to-day chore of running the country, particularly the economy. Analysts have long seen him as the third most powerful man in Cuba, after the Castro brothers. A doctor-turned-technocrat, he is considered the architect of the revamped economy after the Soviet Union fell.
• Ricardo Alarcón: He was reelected Sunday as the head of the National Assembly, a post he has held since 1993. Before that he spent most of his life in foreign affairs, as Cuba's former ambassador to the United Nations and as foreign minister. He is among the most prominent politicians in Cuba. Still, his reelection to head the National Assembly was considered significant because of his age, 70. Some expected a younger, more reform-oriented leader might replace him.
• Felipe Perez Roque: He was the youngest contender for a vice presidential slot, so would have been a nod to younger Cubans. But observers say he is an ideological stalwart, a "yes man" of sorts to Fidel Castro.
These three are often named as the most serious contenders for president once Raul Castro, who is 76, steps down. Even if he remains healthy, observers says it is unclear whether he wants to hold onto power as his brother did.
In the next few years many observers expect a more collaborative government, born of reality and style. No one can replace the role that Fidel Castro alone filled. "And Raul is more consultative, more willing to delegate authority," says Mr. LeoGrande.
Some analysts disagree. Vargas Llosa says the only real power, after the Castro brothers, lies with the military, which continues to be run by Raul Castro and which controls most economic activity. He calls his surrounding team "puppets." He says a younger general might emerge as the next leader.
To solidify a real transformation, though, change must come from the top down and the bottom up, says Ms. Eckstein.
She says many in the younger generation – those who grew up with the collapse of the Soviet Union and whose opportunities have contracted as a result – are disillusioned. "They didn't participate in the 'making' of the revolution," she says. "Most have family members in Miami."
Some analysts say this sentiment could fuel expectations for change that the next government would have to contend with. But no one expects the type of social movements that formed in Eastern Europe. "Civil society is so incipient," she says.