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World

A New Era In Cuba? Raul Castro Hands Over Power To Diaz-Canel

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

For the first time since Cuba's revolution, there is no longer a man named Castro leading the country. Raul Castro, Fidel's younger brother, stepped down on Thursday, formally handing over the reins of power to Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, Cuba's new president. We go now to Havana and reporter Marc Frank to get the view from the island.

Hello.

MARC FRANK: Hi. Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Marc, you've been living in Cuba for decades. Has this changed anything? Does the handover of power shift anything, practically speaking, on the island?

FRANK: Sure, it does. I mean, it really has been evolving since the fall of the Soviet Union. Cuba today doesn't look anything like it did 20 years ago, and it really has begun not to look like anything like it did 10 years ago. Now what we're getting is a change in the optics of the leadership, and we'll have to see what it means in terms of practice in the future. Basically, when Raul Castro took over, he basically said their biggest failure - the original revolutionaries - was that they hadn't been able to replace themselves. We set term limits, and since then, he's worked very hard, actually, at bringing up a younger leadership.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some would say that the failure of the Cuban government was - to not replace themselves was basically one that they chose. There were people over the years who could've replaced them, and they chose not to do that. But I'm curious to know what Cubans are saying about this.

FRANK: Cubans are taking a wait-and-see attitude. You know, the Cubans have gone through a lot, especially in the last four or five years. Their expectations of an improved economy have been somewhat undermined by the collapse of Venezuela. Their expectations of an improved life because of better relations with the United States have been somewhat undermined by the advent of the Trump administration. So, you know, expectations are low. I was talking to a friend of mine who's a nurse there. She said, look, it's got to get better because they're younger, and, you know, medical science shows that their neurons are in a lot better shape.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

FRANK: These young people's neurons are in a lot better shape than the oldsters who are leaving. I talked to some friends in the mountains of eastern Cuba who are very poor, and they said they were very fearful because they were fearful that their subsidies would be taken away as the reforms and modernization of the country moved forwards. So I think everybody understands that probably the reforms that they have began to implement four, five, six, seven, eight years ago are now going to move forwards probably more quickly, especially in the state sector, which is 70 percent of the economy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Most analysts say that the center of power is still in Raul's hands, with the next generation of the Castro family more broadly, as well. Raul has retired, but he's still pulling the strings. He's the head of the Communist Party.

FRANK: I would say this. Yes, Raul Castro still has tremendous authority. But more importantly, the Communist Party still rules the roost in Cuba, as the constitution says. If you look at Miguel Diaz-Canel, if you look at the No. 2, Salvador Mesa, I'll guess - I mean, they've been in the Communist Party's Central Committee since 1991, and they've both been on the Political Bureau for over - for what? - 10 years now. And all the members of the Council of State from the oldest to the youngest, who's only actually 48 years old, they're all members of the Communist Party. So, yes, Raul and his generation still have tremendous weight, but it's clearly moving to a new generation. And no, it's not going to happen tomorrow. Yes, it is going to happen over the next five years.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Marc Frank is a reporter for the Financial Times and Reuters in Havana, and he joined us from there. Thank you so much.

FRANK: A pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.