As Castro fades, a crop of new leaders
As Castro fades, a crop of new leaders
"We have many contradictions in
Leaders like Ms. Castro may indicate the extent to which a post-Castro
Nevertheless, Cuba-watchers and experts have ruled out any dramatic lurch toward a liberal market economy that might undermine the island nation's heritage as the persistent holdout of traditional Communist policies. More relaxed social attitudes may also evolve gradually.
Still, no one doubts that change is afoot.
"The transition in
Now Raul Castro has started to echo some of his daughter's sentiments. Addressing university students, he urged that they should 'fearlessly engage in public debate and analysis," according to Granma, the Communist Party newspaper.
"[Homosexuals] still sometimes face arrest by bigoted police" says Castro, adding that she has sometimes clashed with the authorities in her efforts to release gay men and women from prison.
"Now, society is more relaxed. There is no official repression of gays and lesbians," she argues confidently.
A writer turned politico
Cuban writer and culture minister Abel Prieto has also emerged as an influential power broker in a changing
In response to a question about the conflict of interest between writers and the state, Mr. Prieto laughs, saying that, "sometimes I feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but I hope that artists and writers feel that I am still one of them."
Unlike many members of the government, Prieto is very candid as he speaks about allegations that the Cuban government censors political websites.
"It would be a delusion to think we could hide that torrent of information," he insists, referring to anti-Castro websites. "The only possibility is to beat them with a better concept of life."
Prieto also defended the arrest of the dissident writer Raul Rivero in 2003.
"He was not arrested for his views, but for receiving US funding for his collaboration with a country that has besieged our island," argues the minister, referring to the 45-year-long
An avid fan of the Beatles since the 1970s when their music was essentially banned by the Cuban state, Prieto has led an appreciation campaign of John Lennon. In 2000, he unveiled a statue and dedicated "
Prieto, because of a moment on Cuban television five years ago, is known as one of the few Cabinet ministers who has ever dared to challenge the president. Cubans recall a news segment in which Castro and Prieto appeared together.
After Castro blamed his minister for the fact that so many artists were leaving the country to work abroad, Prieto defended himself.
Millions watched as their supreme leader accepted his error and apologized to Abel Prieto.
"Prieto is extremely important. He has carved out a sizable space for cultural expression [for] many Cuban artists and writers since he became minister of culture," says Julia Sweig, director of the Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in
In a Foreign Affairs article, written after a lengthy visit to
"People at all levels of the Cuban government and the Communist Party were enormously confident of the regime's ability to survive Fidel's passing," Ms. Sweig wrote.
That confidence was apparent in RaÃºl Castro's speech to the opening session of the new parliament last week. "Tell it like it is - tell the truth without justifications, because we are tired of justifications in this revolution," the acting president urged his ministers, according to the youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde.
US economic sanctions irrelevant
Attempts by the Bush administration to set the agenda for change in
Gott, the Latin American analyst, says that both Ms. Castro and Prieto are figures to watch.
"Mariela Castro is a more than competent member of the Castro clan - she will have an important role in social affairs," he says. "The genial Abel Prieto might well be promoted from the culture ministry to something more taxing."