Raul Castro's Cuba changing the rules
Thursday, March 27th 2008, 4:00 AM
Change, that powerful concept that has propelled Sen. Barack Obama to
the top in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, is also
working its magic 90 miles south of Florida.
On the island of Cuba – as in the U.S. – people are eagerly awaiting
change. One month after Raul Castro became president, Cubans are looking
forward to the reforms that government officials have been talking about
for the last few months.
"A process of change has begun on the island, and Cubans have embraced
it," said Mariana Gastón, a Cuban-born Brooklyn teacher who just
returned from Havana.
Change is immediately noticeable in the famously stale Cuban press.
Encouraged by Raul Castro's call for more criticism and open discussion,
the main newspaper in the country, Granma, has been covering for the
first time stories on corruption, theft, waste and inadequacies in the
The Cuban people also have paid heed to Castro's call, and there is a
great deal of debate among intellectuals, students and workers. Problems
with the food supply, freedom to travel and inequalities caused by the
"dollarization" of the economy have all been topics of debate.
Many of the reforms have been reported as if they were already in force,
but most have not been implemented yet. It is expected that they will
"They [the Cuban government] are giving careful consideration to changes
and reforms," said Álvaro Fernández, president of the Cuban American
Commission for Family Rights in Miami.
Fernández and Gastón were part of a group of 129 Cubans from 40
countries who traveled to Havana on March 19 for a three-day meeting
with government representatives.
Many attendees thought Cuba would announce at the meeting the end of
travel restrictions for Cubans on the island and for those living abroad
wishing to visit their homeland. It did not happen.
"Nothing really new was announced," Fernández added. "I think that there
is still a back and forth in regards to what reforms can and should be
That is not surprising. As long as the failed 50-year U.S. trade embargo
and travel ban remain in place, reforms will happen slowly and
cautiously. President Bush's recent hardening of positions – and his
refusal to consider a dialogue with Havana – does nothing to speed up
Yet, some reforms – even the promise of them – already are affecting the
lives of Cubans.
The authorization to some farmers to buy their own supplies and
equipment goes along with Castro's emphasis on increasing food
production – and should be put in place soon. But much more is expected.
In a speech last July 26, Castro announced structural reforms, mainly in
agriculture. They could include turning over land to the peasants who
Public transportation, a longtime nightmare for the population, has seen
some improvement with the arrival of Chinese-made buses. Also, it has
been reported that Cubans will be permitted to stay in tourist hotels.
Already Cubans can buy computers and other appliances, one of the things
people had said they wanted.
The normalization of relations with Mexico and the recent visit of a
very high-ranking Vatican official, Cardinal Bertoni, are also signs of
a new opening.
Skeptics in Washington and Miami will keep dismissing the significance
of changes in Cuba. But the Cuban people and anyone who knows anything
about their country realize their importance.
"The Cuban people are not looking back," Gastón said. "They are looking
only to the future."