As Castro steps down, challenges await Cuba’s new leader
AS CUBAN President Raul Castro prepares to step down next month, ending his family’s sixdecade grip on power, his successor will be faced with major challenges, including the implementation of economic reforms vital for the island’s future.
On Sunday, Cubans went to the polls to ratify a new National Assembly, who will choose the future president. That transition will take place on April 19.
“We have walked a long, long, long and difficult road,” Castro said after casting his vote in Santiago de Cuba, the birthplace of the 1959 revolution spearheaded by his brother Fidel, who died in 2016, 10 years after handing power to Raul.
Raul, who is now 86, will remain at the head of the all-powerful Communist Party of Cuba until the next congress in 2021. But his number two, Miguel DiazCanel, is poised to take his place as president.
If Diaz-Canel does indeed assume the role, the discrete 57-year-old vice-president, the first Cuban leader to have not fought in the revolution, will be faced with a balancing act of reform and staying true to the principles of “Castroism.” Diaz-Canel insisted Sunday that “the triumphant march of the revolution” would continue.
The road ahead will be littered with obstacles, as Cuba’s new leader will inherit reforms sketched out by his predecessor, while the economy struggles to take off with an average 2.4 percent growth between 2008 and 2017.
At the same time, the new president must relaunch foreign investment and get people back to work in manufacturing, given that the island imports most of what it consumes.
In terms of diplomacy, the future Cuban leader will have to face up to fresh antagonism from the United States. Since Donald Trump arrived in the White House little over a year ago, relations between the two countries have taken a nosedive in the wake of as-yet unexplained attacks on US diplomats that have left them with serious injuries.
In light of these daunting challenges, Castro has left nothing to chance, drawing up a party-approved roadmap that sketches out political and economic guidelines for the country until 2030.