Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cuba academics debate effect of Castro descent

Thursday, February 21, 2008 - 10:46 AM EST
Cuba academics debate effect of Castro descent
South Florida Business Journal - by Julia Neyman

A day after Fidel Castro announced he would step down as Cuba's
president, some of Miami's Cuban community leaders met with academics to
discuss what may come next.

But the crystal ball appears hazy, even for the professors who had
traveled to Cuba dozens of times and the exiles who know officials in
the Cuban government.

"Cuba's tumultuous relationship with the U.S. stands at a significant
threshold for change," said Pedro Freyre, Akerman Senterfitt attorney,
where the panel was held. "We are at a historical moment that comes once
in a lifetime."

What changes that moment would bring, if anything, was the subject of
the ensuing debate. Opinions ranged from "little" to "eventually" to
"not at all," and panelists asked more questions than they provided answers.

"Will Raúl Castro sustain elite cohesion?" asked Florida International
University's Damian Fernandez. "Will he keep society at bay? What
instruments of power will he be deploying?"

Fernandez added that Raúl needs continuity to sustain the ruling elite,
but also needs to address the demands of society through reform. Raúl
isn't charismatic, nor is he a "master synthesizer" like Fidel,
Fermandez said. But Raúl has solid control of the armed forces and the
internal policing mechanisms, both of which he will likely deploy to
assert power.

Javier Corrales, visiting from Amherst College, painted a bleak picture
in Cuba, saying that "at the top things are very frozen" since most of
the government is still Fidalista. Corrales said policy prospects in the
U.S. are more optimistic, and even ventured that Republicans will be the
ones to take steps towards opening up to Cuba.

"Democrats talk about lifting the embargo, but don't want to do it," he
said. "Republicans don't talk about it but they may be able to do it

Florida International University anthropologist Katrin Hansing said the
Cuban masses are becoming bolder, watching more illegal foreign channels
and devising ways to outsmart the government and glean a taste of the
oustside world.

"A qualitative difference in the way people think and act has emerged
and is growing every day," she said.

Despite the desires of the Cuban masses and U.S. politicians, Castro's
descent does not signal major change, panelists said.

"I think Cuba might adopt some modest economic reforms [under Raúl],"
Fernandez said. "But they're still thinking inside the box."

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