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As Castro fades, a crop of new Cuban leaders

Interviews with two younger political figures suggest a gradual opening both economically and socially.

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In a country that is in the process of bidding a long farewell to its ageing revolutionaries, Mariela Castro brings an expectation of change along with an air of youthful passion. As the director of Cenesex (the National Sex Education Center) Ms. Castro is eager to consider where Cuba should go in a postrevolutionary era.

"We have many contradictions in Cuba," says Castro, the daughter of Raúl Castro, Cuba's de facto leader and brother of ailing President Fidel Castro. A Spanish doctor arrived in Cuba last week, reenergizing speculation about the health of the Cuban leader, who has not been seen in public since undergoing surgery in July. "We need to experiment and to test what really works, to make public ownership more effective, rather than simply adopting wholesale free-market reforms," Ms. Castro says.

Leaders like Ms. Castro may indicate the extent to which a post-Castro Cuba may be willing to liberalize, both economically and socially. As Cuba's old-guard leadership fades, this new generation – made up primarily of the sons and daughters of those who fought in the 1959 Communist revolution – is perhaps more sympathetic to economic reforms and more-liberal social policies.

Nevertheless, Cuba-watchers and experts have ruled out any dramatic lurch toward a liberal market economy that might undermine the island nation's heritage as the persistent holdout of traditional Communist policies. More relaxed social attitudes may also evolve gradually.

Still, no one doubts that change is afoot.

"The transition in Cuba has already taken place" and this new generation has a key role to play, says Richard Gott, a Latin American analyst and former foreign correspondent for the London-based The Guardian newspaper. "Carlos Lage will be the brains behind the new government. He, together with Julio Soberon at the central bank, will seek to chart a new economic course."

Now Raul Castro has started to echo some of his daughter's sentiments. Addressing university students, he urged that they should ''fearlessly engage in public debate and analysis," according to Granma, the Communist Party newspaper.

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