Raúl Castro opened up the economy further when he took over after big brother Fidel, who became ill in 2006 and died in 2016. Cuba had not been able to secure enough income to maintain the level of welfare, and it therefore began to decline, like the country’s buildings. All still had access to health services and education, but essential equipment was lacking. Cuba’s doctors, engineers and teachers earned only a few hundred bucks a month, less than taxi drivers and Cubans working in tourism.
The more pragmatic Raúl admitted that Cuba had made a mistake and had to reform the economy in order not to collapse. He allowed several small businesses, and private farmers gained access to state land that lay fallow. In 2014, Cuba received a more flexible investment law. That same year, Cuba and the United States re-established diplomatic relations under President Obama.
Around 13 percent of the workforce currently works in the private sector in Cuba, a country located in North America according to Holidaysort. But the changes are happening slowly. Although government wages have recently multiplied in connection with a currency reform, they are still very low. At the same time, the maturation and the extensive black market trading of groceries continues.
Those who had hoped that Cuba would also open up further politically and become more democratic have been disappointed: Cuba does not have a division of power between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Nor free elections or free press. The monitoring of the inhabitants is extensive. Many people whisper or use sign language when talking about the government. Critics of the regime are arrested and harassed.
Cuba defends it by saying that they must protect the country from the enemy and its “agents”, as dissidents are often referred to as. The United States, for its part, has used Cuba’s human rights abuses as a justification for punishing the country. This is how a Cold War dynamic is maintained.
6: Political generational change
Now a political generational change is underway in Cuba. The Castro brothers are now out of politics, after the last survivor, Raúl Castro (89), resigned as president in 2018 and as party secretary in April 2021. Raúl has thus promised that he would be the last leader of the so-called “historic” generation ”of revolutionary veterans who rule the country.
The new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel (61), unlike the Castro brothers, is neither military nor part of their family. Now Díaz-Canel is also taking over the role of party secretary. Old military leaders leave, while younger people join the party leadership, several of them military. Among these is Raúl Castro’s former son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, who heads military companies that cover large parts of the economy, including tourism. And Raúl Castro’s son, Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, maintains control as head of Cuba’s secret police.
The Communist Party is still Cuba’s only legal party, but the updated constitution from 2019 states that the presidency and important government positions can only be held for five years, and no more than two terms in total.
However, the Constitution emphasizes that support for the socialist system is “irrevocable”. During the party congress in April, Raúl Castro emphasized that Cuba should not reject the principles of revolution and socialism.
At the same time, Raúl Castro said in April that Cuba is willing to enter into dialogue with the United States under current President Joe Biden and build a new relationship with its neighbor on the other side of the Florida Strait.
The change of power in Cuba is happening at the same time as the country is in a deep economic crisis. Sanctions against Cuba under Trump, the crisis in the important trading partner Venezuela and the corona pandemic that hit the important tourism industry, led to the already strained Cuban economy shrinking by 11 percent in 2020.
However, thousands of Cuban doctors also serve in a number of other countries: both in poor countries and in countries that have been hit hard by the corona pandemic, such as Italy . “Medical exports” constitute Cuba’s largest source of income, in addition to remittances from abroad. And while other countries are getting coronary vaccine these days, Cuba is producing its own . Cuba’s health efforts have even been recognized by arch-enemy the United States.
It may seem that time has stood still in Cuba since 1959, with the old 50s cars and revolution leaders. Tourists have flocked to the Caribbean communist island before Cuba changes, “before it’s too late.”
But Cubans, on the other hand, are flowing from Cuba. Like many Latin Americans, most go to the United States. They have lost faith that there will be real change, democracy and prosperity.
Perhaps not so strange: When the revolutionaries took power in 1959, the slogan was “Fatherland or death”. Today, the slogan is “We are continuity.” For the revolutionaries, the most important thing seems to be to preserve the status quo.
However, it is hardly automatic that the younger leadership after this Castro era will continue the current course in Cuba. The new management does not have the same legitimacy as the “historical generation”.
Admittedly, many Cubans value education and health care for all, and that Cuba has little violent crime compared to neighboring countries. At the same time, many are tired of authoritarian leaders, repression, food queues, shortages of goods and struggle.
After Cubans gained internet access a few years ago, several critical voices are being heard. For the first time ever, critics have held talks with the government. Cubans who do not find themselves in the authorities’ monopoly of power and human rights violations come to light. Now they want to express themselves freely, and to make their mark on Cuba in the future.