Cuba inches in right direction
February 27, 2013
By Dale McFeatters
Raul Castro was rubber-stamped Sunday into another term as Cuba's
president. He says this term will be his last and that he will retire in
2018. In 54 years, Cubans have had only two presidents — not that they
had much choice in the matter — Raul, 81, and his ailing older brother
Fidel, 86, the country's long-serving dictator who stepped aside for
Raul only when ill health forced him to.
Bypassing an entire generation of aging Castroites, Raul named Miguel
Diaz-Canel, 52, as his new first vice president and heir apparent.
Diaz-Canel replaces Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 81, who fought alongside
the Castros in the Cuban revolution.
Raul praised Machado Ventura for his patriotism and selflessness in
making way for Diaz-Canel, although voluntarily relinquishing power has
not been a hallmark of the Castros' Cuba.
Raul told a gathering of legislative leaders that he plans to establish
two-term limits for Cuba's top political offices and establish age
limits for holding those offices. These may be well-intentioned reforms,
but they would also assure that no future leaders challenge the Castro
brothers for their place in Cuba's history books.
Raul reiterated his commitment "to defend, maintain and continue to
perfect socialism," but while in office he nibbled at the edges of
Cuba's pervasive state socialism, allowing certain types of private
businesses and real estate ownership, and easing travel restrictions.
Those steps were small and slow in coming, but at least they were in the
right direction if Cuba is ever to gain a modicum of prosperity.
Diaz-Canel, an electrical engineer by training, is a former minister of
higher education and headed the Communist Party in two provinces. He
learned quickly when a charismatic patron of his was dumped by the
Castros that the better part of valor was to be neither seen nor heard.
He apparently excels in backroom politics, a skill he will need because,
while Raul sees him as the heir apparent, it's a safe bet that a lot of
Cuban politicians, their ambitions bottled up by the long rule of the
Castros, do not.
Meanwhile, Raul could celebrate his second term and indicate his desire
for friendly relations with the U.S. by releasing Alan Gross, 63, a
USAID contractor who was arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in
prison for illegally bringing communications equipment onto the island.
Gross' crime was apparently trying to link Cuba's small Jewish community
to other Jewish communities by providing Internet connections. Most of
the civilized world does not see this as a crime and neither should Cuba.
Dale McFeatters writes for Scripps Howard News Service.