Friday, September 29, 2006

Panelists focus on Raul's role

Posted on Fri, Sep. 29, 2006

Panelists focus on Raúl's role
Experts agree that the Cuban succession has occurred, but the future for
political and economic events is a big question mark.

Experts say economic reforms should be priority for Cuba's new president

The emerging government in Cuba will have its work cut out as it tries
to match the rising expectations from military brass, the ruling elite
and budding consumers, a panel of experts agreed at a Thursday seminar.

In a city used to abundant Cuba conferences, what was remarkable about
the seminar -- ''You Only Live Once: The Outlook for Economic Reforms in
a Post-Fidel Cuba'' -- was that while the future of Cuba is still up in
the air, participants are now speculating on what acting President Raúl
Castro will do -- and not about the actions of his ailing brother Fidel

The seminar -- sponsored by INTL Consilium, a Fort Lauderdale-based fund
manager -- played to a packed house at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Miami.

The morning event underscored agreement among pundits and analysts that
the absence of the elder Castro has not brought about an abrupt change
or a transition to a new style of government. Fidel Castro announced on
July 31 that he was ceding power to his brother while he recuperated
from surgery.

''Succession has taken place,'' said Jaime Suchlicki, director of the
Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of
Miami. ``It is an individual succession. It is also an institutional

Suchlicki said that he did not expect Fidel Castro to fully resume his
former position, possibly returning in a ``policy capacity.''

Frank Mora, of the National Defense University in Washington, spoke of
the deep divisions within the military, particularly after its ranks
were culled to 40,000 to 50,000 from 250,000, with many former officers
now running state-owned companies. ''What unites this elite,'' Mora
said, ``is the fear of the future, the fear that they could lose it all
if they start bickering.''

Mora suggested that Raúl Castro would have to create his own legitimacy
as a leader by coming up with a new model to combat ``deep frustration
about the standard of living.''

Phil Peters, of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., also
predicted that the new leaders would have to grapple with satisfying
growing frustration, particularly among young people.

''To me, some measure of economic reform is going to make some sense to
them,'' he said.

Damian Fernandez, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida
International University, predicted that political change would be more
difficult than economic reforms in a population tired of revolutionary

''There is an atomization and a fragmentation of civil society,''
Fernandez said. ``After 40 years of forced participation, there is a gap
between economic expectations and political ones.''

The seminar attracted a high-powered crowd. In attendance were Carlos de
Cespedes, chairman of Pharmed; Andy Fernandez, president of Bacardi
Latin America; Sergio Masvidal, president of American Express Bank;
Jacobo Gadala-Maria, president of EFG Capital; Simon Amich, American
Express Bank's Western hemisphere chief; and British Consul Keith Allan.

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