Is change finally coming to Cuba?
One might think so from this year’s May Day rally in Havana, presided over by Raul Castro, not Fidel. Reforms were announced to reduce central planning in the island nation’s farm sector, and gone were the former strongman’s fiery -- and windy -- speeches that once kept the ceremonies going most of the day. This year the celebration was over in a business-like two hours.
Since taking over for his ailing brother in February, Raul Castro has made other changes too. He formally ended government restrictions on Cubans having cellular telephones and other consumer electronics, and staying in hotels once reserved for foreign tourists. But many Cubans already had these things through the black market, and for a vast number of others they remain out of reach. Wages for the average Cuban remain pitifully small, under twenty dollars per month, thanks to the government’s continued tight control of the larger economy.
The recent changes, and others hinted to be coming soon such as inviting more foreign investment and allowing Cubans to freely travel abroad, fall far short of the fundamental reforms needed to bring Cuba into the 21st century. And Raul Castro has shown no sign of loosening the political grip that his older brother and the repressive system he built have held on the island nation for fifty years.
True change will begin when Mr. Castro’s government releases the over two-hundred political prisoners now held in Cuban jails, and when it stops harassing those who demonstrate their support for such men and women. It also requires that Raul Castro start a process that leads to free speech, free access to media, as well as free and fair elections that allow Cubans to choose their own president, not see the office handed down like a family heirloom.