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Cuba: The end of an era?

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Outgoing Cuban President Raul Castro (R) raises the arm of Cuba’s new President Miguel Diaz-Canel after he was formally named by the National Assembly, in Havana on April 19, 2018.Miguel Diaz-Canel succeeds Raul Castro a historic handover ending six decades of rule by the Castro brothers. The 57-year-old Diaz-Canel, who was the only candidate for the presidency, was elected to a five-year term with 603 out of 604 possible votes in the National Assembly. AFP PHOTO / Adalberto ROQUE


Recently, the people of Cuba got a new President in the person of 57-year old Miguel Diaz Canel, a Party man who has vowed continuity in national affairs. His election by the National Assembly marks a formal break with the Castro family that had ruled the Communist Island country since after the revolution in 1959. Fidel Castro (1926-2016) who led the revolution presided over that Island’s government for 52 years before stepping down on account of poor health in 2001. His brother Raul Castro took over on the mantle of leadership same year and has handed over to a man of a younger generation.

No doubt a sound vision, a spirit of endurance and perspicacity has driven life in Cuba, both politically and socially. The character of the Castros is perfect-fit for a movie – ideologically driven individuals overthrowing a corrupt capitalist system in order to install a people-oriented government. To be sure, its ideology has had its challenges. The big communist countries have adopted some open market policies and practices. Cuba is yet to move in this direction. Added to this is the virulent hostility and bellicosity of the United States, which has felt insulted by the very existence of Cuba.

Indeed although Diaz-Canel was born after the revolution he had served the Party very well rising through the ranks and holding sensitive positions. His election therefore is a reward for hard work, commitment and consistency in living the dream of the idealist revolution which created a Communist nation right under the nose of America. For over 50 years, America undermined the development efforts of Cuba. Both covert and overt means were applied to force the Cuban government to abandon its socialist principles. Apart from an economic blockade or trade embargo there has also been intense propaganda against Cuba. But the Cuban government under the brothers have been resilient in their commitment to a way of life which they adjudged the best in the interest of the Cuban people.

Cuba has achieved a feat in education infrastructure and health facilities. Literacy rate in Cuba is at 99.5%. The government has invested heavily in education, spending 10% of its GNP on education. It has also succeeded in keeping the teacher ratio at 12:1. The state-run schools and universities offer equal opportunities to all Cubans. The result has been that for the youth literacy is 100%, a feat which some great economies in the world have not been able to achieve. Its health sector has the most qualified and dedicated doctors in the world. Cuban doctors have been exported to different countries in the world, often at great cost to the tiny economically-poor but ideologically rich country. Even President Obama attested to this when he said to President Castro in Cuba, ‘Look, you’ve made great progress in educating young people. Every child in Cuba gets a basic education—that’s a huge improvement from where it was. Medical care—the life expectancy of Cubans is equivalent to the United States, despite it being a very poor country, because they have access to health care. That’s a huge achievement.”

The Obama Administration opened up diplomatic ties with Cuba, something that was deemed impossible a decade ago. The Cubans stuck to their ideology, fully convinced that ultimately, with cooperation from their wealthy superpower neighbour the many years of discipline would yield results. Sadly, the Trump administration has reversed all the gains that were made during the Obama years in rapprochement with Cuba. Still, the Cuban spirit remains resilient, strong and focused. President Raul Castro, though steeped in the ideals of the 1959 revolution, managed to oversee the delicate negotiations and discussions with America that led to restoration of diplomatic relations on 20th July 2015. It was a new spirit made possible by Raul Castro’s flexibility and President Obama’s liberal spirit.

It is against this background that we welcome Diaz-Canel to the Presidency of Cuba. The time has come to reform the revolution, having established a solid foundation of discipline, commitment and integrity. Although there is wealth in ideology and commitment economic poverty still stares the average Cuban in the face. He should think out of the box and strike the delicate balance between orthodoxy and new thinking that could life millions out of economic poverty. It is high time too that the American government lifted its economic embargo on Cuba to allow the tiny nation to thrive. Cuba has already succeeded in creating an image of the biblical David confronting and defeating the mighty Goliath. The people of Cuba deserve a better deal.

There is a lot to learn from the Castro brothers, no matter how they have been demonised by Western media narratives. In spite of the many decades of controlling the State-machinery, no one can claim and sustain an accusation of corruption or exploitation of state resources for their personal gain. They have remained largely within the spirit and terms of the original vision that propelled the revolution decades ago. The government has been people-oriented and has transformed the health and education sectors. The Castro brothers also helped the liberation struggle at a time when the western governments allowed racism and oppression to thrive as state policy.

In moving forward, the new leader should consider reducing tight controls on foreign investments, restrictions on the private sector and the notion of a single party system. In the 21st century, it makes sense to allow individuals to freely express themselves and pursue their dreams in business and trade. How Diaz-Canel will walk this tight rope is a test for him and the survival of the Cuban people. In his open tribute to Cuba under the Castros, Nelson Mandela asserted: The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom, and justice unparalleled for its principled and selfless character.’ No greater tribute can be paid to the Castro family.


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