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A Cuba beyond the Castros? (+video)

News from Cuba this week that Raul Castro will step down in 2018 is offering fodder for critics of US policy towards Cuba who say Washington is stuck in the Cold War.

By Anya Landau FrenchGuest blogger / February 25, 2013

Cuba's leader Fidel Castro and his brother Cuban President Raul Castro talk during the opening session of the National Assemby in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2012.

Ismael Francisco/AP

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This past week was uncommonly full of Cuba news.

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Raul Castro announces he will step down from Cuba's presidency in 2018.

At the top of the list has to be this weekend's selection of a new First Vice President in Cuba, Manuel Diaz Canel, age 52, the first person to occupy that post that did not fight in the Revolution. The outgoing First Vice President apparently stepped aside to make room for the next generation of Cuban leaders. Diaz Canel is presumed to be Raul Castro’s successor, a prospect made all the more clear by Raul Castro’s reiteration that this will indeed be his final term in office, as he promised in 2008 when he began his first full term as president.

Castro also endorsed term (and age!) limits for top government officials, and insisted that he will press ahead with his reform agenda. Two of the country’s five vice presidents are now women, and just one leader of the Revolution, Ramiro Valdes, remains.

Interestingly, Fidel Castro, who made a rare appearance at the National Assembly session yesterday and gave a wide-ranging interview to Cuba's Communist Party daily Granma earlier this month, does not exactly seem bowled over by his brother’s big change agenda, referring to the Revolution as the “change” that matters most. While the elder Castro assures this is all just a bit of fine-tuning, the consistent message to the Cuban people from the younger Castro now in charge is clear: Cuba is changing, it is (slowly) modernizing, and perhaps most important of all, that Raul Castro himself can be trusted to follow through – however slowly at times – with the reformist policies he endorses.

While there will no doubt be ingrained skepticism among many Cubans - and Raul Castro himself makes sure not to take it too far, promising no return to capitalism in Cuba, for example – many Cubans will see the leadership changes that took place this week as a sign that more changes still are on the way.

It’s thus jarring to see how disconnected US policy is from the changes afoot in Cuba today. As one of the Cuban government’s most vocal critics, blogging sensation Yoani Sanchez (who is now traveling in Brazil, thanks to Raul Castro’s migration reforms), put it: The US embargo of Cuba is “a fossil of the Cold War that does not have any sense in the modern world in which we live."

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