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Raul Castro, the pragmatist, takes Cuba's helm

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In a speech in July last year, Raul Castro made several bold statements about the state of Cuba's economy. William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert at American University in Washington, says that criticisms of the inefficiency of bureaucracy and inefficacy of public transportation are signs that changes could come in a post-Fidel Cuba. Raul Castro has already made some moves to address such issues, including buying a fleet of Chinese buses and paying off the debt the government owed the country's farmers.

The government also announced that cash, often paid under the table to Cubans working for foreign corporations, will be taxed – a recognition that the salary structure is inadequate, he says.

Faith in Raul Castro's ability to manage the economy emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, which was supplying Cuba with oil and was a key trade partner. As a survival mechanism, Fidel Castro called it a "special period" of austerity. But the era also included opening up state enterprises, particularly in tourism and agriculture. The economy collapsed by more than 30 percent in this period, and while poverty is still rampant, the economy eventually stabilized.

Raul Castro and Fidel Castro have worked side-by-side since their attempt to attack the Moncada Army barracks in 1953. They rose to power together six years later, forcing dictator Fulgencio Batista from power on New Year's Day 1959. Observers say that Raul was always seen as more of a hard-liner, but he showed little of the flare that has made Fidel Castro an international icon, and that has sustained his presidency.

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