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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Cuba: une page se tourne

by Bernard Duraud

A Page Turns in Cuba

Translated Friday 7 March 2008, by Nic Whyley

Today, a page has turned for the large Caribbean island of Cuba. The parliament, elected on January 20, was called to name the person who will be taking over the highest position in the Cuban government, as the Head of State (President of the State Council). After half a century in power, Fidel Castro announced that he will not seek a new term as the Head of State. Raul Castro, who has taken over his position, is seen as the favourite to succeed him and, if so, may also introduce some younger leaders into the ranks.

On Tuesday, just days away from the elections for State Council leaders, Fidel Castro declared that he would not aspire to a new Presidential term, reaffirming his wish not to “hold onto power”, a position from which he has distanced himself since July 2006. In a long letter published on the Granma website, the Commander-in-Chief indicated to his people that he would not seek out, nor accept the positions of President of State and Head of Army.

He said that his state of “ill” health, as well as extensive surgery to his intestines were to blame and that, after sixteen months, he would now hand over the reins —temporarily—to his brother, Raul. At 81 years old, Fidel Castro also brought up the issue of Cuba’s future stating how it would be “difficult and would require the intelligent decisions of others”. Yet he seemed confident in the fact that it would rest on established old-school frameworks, as well as relyng upon those who were too young to be involved in the early stages of the Revolution and also upon the middle generation. But Castro will continue to write and communicate his own reflections and thoughts. “I am not abandoning you. I wish only to fight as a good soldier of ideas”.

Election of a New Head of State.

The news that Fidel Castro will bring to an end almost fifty years of power and an exceptional career, that of a long-distance runner, extending over the entire period of the Cold War. For over half a century, he managed to overcome the hostility of the United States, which continues to impose an embargo on Cuba; he escaped a number of attempted assassinations planned by the CIA and survived the crumbling of the USSR, which had devastating effects on Cuba’s economy.

George Bush was immediately delighted with the news that Cuba’s old leader will stand down indefinitely, and awaits a “democratic transition”. But Cuba certainly didn’t wait for the good advice from the hawks in Washington to begin its new transition. For several months, Cubans have been learning to live without the Commander, and have taken to publicly posing the nagging question: what lies after Fidel?

The first stage will be revealed on Sunday. The parliament elected on January 20 has called to name who will be taking over the highest ranks of the Cuban government, the Head of State (President of the State Council). Raul Castro, who has temporarily taken over his position, is seen as the favourite to succeed him, as well as Vice-President, Carlos Lago, a doctor of 56 years old who represents the Revolution’s youth generation.

A period of uncertainty

One thing is for sure: Cuba has already started its transition period. And any uncertainty is more linked to knowing whether this transition will take Cuba from socialism to capitalism, where the fruits of the Revolution, like education, healthcare and “national dignity” will be uprooted and destroyed. Or a project built on the ancient model—partly taken from the Cold War and constrained by the American embargo. Or even whether it will be a more controversial Cuban-style socialism and constructed from old foundations. It is true that, in Havana, combining the Chinese way and even the Vietnamese, with their strong political control and capitalist enclaves, has been under the microscope. Since the fall of the Soviet Empire, this idea has tended to peter out.

Unlike the 1980s, when Cuba, the “beleaguered fortress”, opened its floodgates to an embryonic and rather chaotic Capitalism, the change in the ideological climate and several integration projects with the rest of Latin America (like ALBA which unites Venezuela, Bolivia and now Ecuador side by side), now allow the large Caribbean island to advance with a more tranquil and open framework. And issues relating to the role of the market, democracy, liberty and social participation are all thrashed out. The Spanish writer, Manuel Vasquez Montalban predicted a good future for Cuba on the condition that it break with “the worst of itself”. The Cubans, so proud of their social conquests and independence, have all they need to make that decision.

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