AS RAUL CASTRO’S second presidential term will be coming to an end in 2018 – he reduced the length of political terms to ten years, i.e. a maximum of two five-year periods. Cuba starts preparing for a long-anticipated generational change. Significant challenges will be faced during the transitioning period, not only of a political and economic kind, but also ideological and cultural. The foundations of the socialist ideology, which has underpinned the Cuban socioeconomic system for the past five decades, will be put to the test as their major leaders relinquish power.
At the beginning of his second term as president of Cuba, Castro appointed Miguel Díaz-Canel as vice-president. Díaz-Canel, who is seen as the successor of Raúl Castro, was born just a year after the 1959 revolution. Castro mentioned that Díaz-Canel’s appointment was a ‘definitive step forward towards the configuration of the future direction of the country’. Díaz-Canel is a leading figure among the new generation of political leaders in Cuba, and together with another possible successor, Marino Murillo, have spearheaded the renewal of economic policies as well as the repeal of many long-standing restrictions. Others have suggested Castro’s son, Alejandro Castro Espín, as a potential heir of the regime.
As all of these possible successors to Raúl Castro, most working age adults in Cuba were either small children or had not even been born at the time of the revolution in 1959. This represents a challenge not only to the economic and political arrangements of the island, but to the very essence and social spirit of the revolution. Despite not having lived through the revolution, Cuba’s adult population grew up in times of strong ideological tailwinds. Young people, however, were raised in a very different Cuba: a socialist country that that was bravely surviving the US embargo, with high rates of literacy, universal health care and access to quality education. Yet it was a country with considerable economic problems (low productivity, debt, liquidity, among others) that were magnified, if not caused, by the embargo. They saw their country have to resort to more capitalist policies such as openness to tourism, and thus, foreign influence. In this context, the upcoming authorities of the country will be challenged to keep the spirit of the revolution alive as a national project of alternative and sovereign development.
The challenge for the upcoming political leaders lies in their ability to keep the socialist flame alight, particularly as the younger generations are becoming more and more enticed by the Western-capitalist model. They will not only need to convince the youth of the benefits of a socialist economic and social arrangement, but also give them a role in it and empower them to construct their own sovereign model of economic development. To this end, the political leaders of tomorrow will have to re-contextualise the issues the Cuban revolution originally responded to: the need to make the Cuban economy more equitable, to make it work for all Cubans and to free it from the interference of the hegemons of the Global North. The socialist spirit lives in the souls of millions of Cubans that witnessed first-hand the social benefits of the revolution. The political leaders of the future in Cuba will have a dual relationship with the “espíritu de la revolución”: they will have to adapt it in order to overcome the economic issues, whilst making sure the ideological goal of ensuring a high level of equity and social welfare is preserved.
Without ignoring the low levels of productivity and liquidity, high levels of sovereign debt, as well as many other issues; socialist Cuba has built a considerable human and social capital that will enable it to open up to the world with great potentialities. In Cuba, the rate of home ownership is 80% and rents are kept at affordable rates; everybody has access to cultural opportunities, and women participation on the economic and political arenas has been a top-priority in the last decade. Public transport and medication are cheap, while health care and education are free of charge at the point of use. Moreover, Cuba’s pharmaceutical sector, which produces vaccines and patents among other products, generate yearly revenues of upwards of 300 million US dollars, in spite of the embargo imposed by the US. Pharmaceutical research responds to the population’s needs, and provides more than 70% of domestically consumed medicine. The human, scientific, and social capital Cuba has built up will enable the upcoming generations to fend off for themselves in an ever more globalised economy – and possibly translate capital into a renewed, larger welfare state under values that recognise the admirable trajectory of this resilient island, which has led them to develop one of the most inclusive models of development. Raúl Castro has initiated a renewal process of the social and economic arrangements, but it will be the strength of the Cuban social values constructed over the last decades that will determine whether or not socialist ideology in the island will continue to prevail.