As Cas­tro steps down, chal­lenges await Cuba’s new leader

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - International -

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.

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