Raul Castro Brings Cuba Closer to Democracy

Dalton Vogler

2/25/2013 4:20:00 PM - Dalton Vogler

Earlier this morning news broke that Cuban President Raul Castro would be retiring at the end of his current term, set for 2018. For the first time in over 54 years Cuba will be led by someone other than a Castro, as Raul selected Miguel Diaz-Canel, a 52-year old professor to serve as the country’s vice-president.

The Associated Press reports that Cuban exiles are skeptical that the news will result in any change in the country’s communist ideology:

""It's no big news. It would have been big news if he resigned today and called for democratic elections," said Alfredo Duran, a Cuban-American lawyer.”

"I wasn't worried about him being around after 2018," he added.

Still, those familiar with Diaz-Canel remain optimistic that the future president could soften Cuba’s steadfast refusal of democracy.

“He’s a much more flexible type than he seems, open-minded and above all intelligent,” said one official who has known Diaz-Canel since the 1980s”.

The succession of his brother Fidel Castro in 2006 led Raul to make numerous social and economic changes, including lenience on travel constraints and the promotion of private businesses. With Cuba’s growth limited by U.S. trade embargoes, new talks are emerging to stop additional restrictions.

Even prominent Republican leaders such as former vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan support lifting the embargo, the Cato Institute reports:

“The embargo doesn’t work. It is a failed policy. It was probably justified when the Soviet Union existed and posed a threat through Cuba. I think it’s become more of a crutch for Castro to use to repress his people. All the problems he has, he blames the American embargo.”

Conservative politicians looking to repair their fractured message to constituents could benefit from lifting the embargo. An end would demonstrate America’s approval of Cuba’s progress, and a willingness to support Cuba in transitioning away from socialist policies. As it stands this policy costs the U.S. over $1 billion dollars in trading each year and prevents Cuban’s from experiencing the benefits of capitalism.

This isn’t the same Cuba of thirty years ago. Diplomat Wayne Smith predicts “[a] younger, more liberal generation of Cuban Americans with no memory of life in Cuba is coming to the fore. For the first time in years, maybe there is some chance for a change in policy.”