After Fidel Castro fell ill last summer Cuban-Americans across the country turned a hopeful eye toward their homeland in anticipation that la revolucion was finally over. Cuban-American congressman Lincoln Diaz-Barlat urged Cubans to rise up and engage in civil disobedience; some Cuban-Americans in Miami readied boats for a boisterous homecoming; and President Bush pledged support to those ready for a "free Cuba." In fact, the only place in which the end of Castro's--or, at least, a Castro's--reign did not seem to register was Cuba itself.
A year later, Raul Castro, Fidel's younger brother, and, at 76 no spring chicken himself, may finally be coming into his own. In May we ran an interview with Phil Peters, a Cuba expert and former State Department official in the Reagan and Bush I administrations, about the possible liberalization of the Cuban economy under Raul. At that time Peters predicted that "an economic opening is very likely." It is Raul who was staunchly in favor of major economic reforms in the 1990s, which opened Cuba up to foreign partnerships, reorganized the agricultural system so that farmers were able to sell their surplus; and perhaps most significantly, permitted self-employment--Cuba's highly regulated version of entrepreneurship. And so if anyone were to open the country up, Raul would be the man for the job, albeit under continued Communist rule.
Although the past year has not yielded any serious economic reform, one notable, if symbolic change, is that Fidel's editorials no longer grace the cover pages of the state-controlled papers and more and more Raul appears to be the man running the show. Today Reuters appraised Raul's Revolution Day speech (the first delivered by someone other than Fidel) and the reaction it received among Cubans. According to Reuters, Raul acknowledged that state salaries were inadequate and agriculture inefficient. He encouraged more foreign investment and recognized the need for structural changes in order to produce more food and "cut the country's reliance on expensive imports." While some seemed inspired -- one woman who works as a maid said that "the speech shows that Raul is in charge now. Changes are coming," -- just as many remain skeptical. The article reveals a telling moment between a husband and wife who disagree over whether things are getting better. Before the husband can finish making his point, his wife, who believes things have improved, tells him to shut up before he gets himself arrested.