For the first time since 1959, Cuba faces life after Castro

Ageing President Raúl Castro, brother of Fidel, appoints new deputy and signals transition to democracy

As they digested yesterday’s solemn pledge from Raúl Castro at the annual meeting of the National Assembly to make his new five-year term as president his last, the people of Cuba today pondered a future where – after all these decades of stubborn isolation and political repression – a Castro would no longer be in charge.

The pronouncement – “this will be my last term,” Mr Castro, 81, said firmly, with his elder brother and the former president, Fidel, looking on – was at once shocking and barely so. But at the very least it means that by 2018, Raúl will relinquish power and the leadership of the island nation will for the first time pass to someone who was not part of the 1959 revolution that brought Soviet-style socialism to the island and expelled capitalism.

Since taking over from Fidel in 2008, the younger Castro has edged Cuba away from a Soviet economic model of centralised control. He has issued licenses for small private enterprises, allowed for a limited property market, lifted deeply unpopular travel restrictions and given some autonomy to state enterprises. But no one for now is mistaking these reforms for an abandonment of one-party control or indeed of socialism, even if it is to become less pure.

“I was not chosen to be president to restore capitalism to Cuba,” he told delegates. “I was elected to defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism, not destroy it.” That democracy remains beyond the horizon was evident in the anointing on Sunday of a new number two who thus becomes the favourite to succeed Mr Castro. He is 52-year-old Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, an electrical engineer and former Minister of Higher Education.

When Fidel Castro fell ill with a near-fatal stomach ailment in 2006, Cuba was still largely in the abyss opened by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Raúl promised reforms that were finally laid out in a multi-year plan adopted amid fanfare two years ago. All the while, he has argued for retiring the first generation of leaders who were part of the revolution to make way for new blood. “Our greatest satisfaction is the tranquillity and serene confidence we feel as we deliver to the new generations the responsibility to continue building socialism,” he said in his address.

On elevating the silver-haired Mr Díaz-Canel to his new position, Mr Castro said that Cuba had reached a point of “historic transcendence”. He went on: “It represents a definitive step in the configuration of the future leadership of the nation.” Mr Castro spoke of capping all political posts, including the presidency, to two five-year terms, and hinted at other reforms to the constitution far-reaching enough to warrant a national referendum.

“This is the start of a new era,” insisted Roberto Delgado, a 68-year-old retiree from the pleasant Miramar neighbourhood of Havana that is home to foreign embassies as well as to many top party lieutenants. “It will undoubtedly be a complicated and difficult process, but something important [has] happened.”

In the Cuban exile community of south Florida, there was a more sceptical reaction. “It would have been big news if he resigned today and called for democratic elections,” Alfredo Duran, a Cuban-American lawyer and moderate exile leader noted yesterday. “I wasn’t worried about him being around after 2018.” 

For Washington, which has expressed frustration at the slow progress of Cuban reform, the changes announced at the weekend are minimally important for now and will not affect the trade embargo that continues to define relations with the island nation. Yet they hold very great significance for the future because the trade sanctions law specifically says they will remain in place so long as a Castro is charge.

The Castro years

1959 Fidel Castro overthrows US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. He begins dismantling capitalist system, and nationalises US companies.

1961 US breaks off diplomatic relations with Havana, and sponsors an unsuccessful invasion by Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs. Castro proclaims Cuba a communist state.

1962 Nuclear war comes dangerously close with missile crisis.

1992 US tightens longstanding embargo on Cuba. Castro allows limited individual private enterprise.

2008 After prolonged illness, Fidel steps down. Raúl takes over, beginning a string of reforms by lifting bans on owning mobile phones and computers.

2013 Raúl Castro, 82, says he will step down after his second term.

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Life and Style
The spring/summer 2015 Louis Vuitton show for Paris Fashion Week
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?