Mon, Apr 16, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Cuba’s ‘lost generation’ prepares to take power on Thursday

By Michael Weissenstein and Andrea Rodriguez  /  AP, HAVANA

Fidel and Raul Castro were scruffy young guerrillas in 1959, when they descended from Cuba’s eastern mountains, seized power and never relinquished it.

As they aged into their 80s and 90s, the Castros and their fellow fighters cast a shadow so deep that Cubans born in the first decades after the revolution became known as Cuba’s “lost generation,” men and women who spent their lives executing the orders of graying revolutionaries.

This week, Raul Castro is to step down as president after a decade in office, handing the position to a successor widely expected to be 57-year-old Cuban First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

The Thursday handoff is the centerpiece of a broader transition to a group of leaders from the lost generation, who face an unprecedented test of their ability to guide a nation that has followed the same commandantes for 60 years.

Despite a series of reforms under Castro, Cuba remains locked in grinding economic stagnation that has driven hundreds of thousands of Cubans to emigrate in search of better lives.

Change is to require potentially painful reforms, like the elimination of a dual-currency system that has created damaging economic distortions.

“A great number of this country’s young people will be watching to see if they’re capable of changing things, of offering something new, of going beyond what’s seemed like a great grayness until now,” said Yassel Padron Kunakbaeva, a 27-year-old blogger who writes frequently from what he describes as a Marxist, revolutionary perspective.

The world should expect no immediate radical change from a single-party system dedicated to stability above all else. Raul Castro is to remain first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, described by the Cuban constitution as the nation’s “highest guiding force.”

Raul Castro has said nothing publicly about how he is to use that position, but Cuban leaders have been making clear that a generational handover is underway.

On Feb. 24, Raul Castro awarded one of Cuba’s highest honors, the title Hero of Labor, to fellow guerrillas Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, an 87-year-old vice president and second secretary of the Communist Party, as well as to 85-year-old Vice President Ramiro Valdes and 90-year-old former rebel leader and Vice President Guillermo Garcia Frias.

For many Cubans, the elaborate ceremony in the soaring, newly reopened neoclassical National Capitol Building had a valedictory tone, a sign that the powerful Valdes and Machado Ventura are to have far less important roles in Diaz-Canel’s administration.

While the inner workings of the Cuban government are opaque, both men were widely perceived as conservatives slowing reform.

“We’re practically already in that future that’s been talked about so much, that a moment of transition had to arrive,” Machado Ventura told state television last month. “Now it’s generational. It has to materialize, has to be that way.”

Along with Diaz-Canel, a group of middle-aged leaders are being closely watched as candidates for more powerful positions.

They include 60-year-old Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez, 54-year-old Havana party leader Mercedes Lopez Acea, 57-year-old economic reform czar Marino Murillo and 63-year-old Lazaro Exposito, party head in Cuba’s second-most-populated province, Santiago.

Behind the scenes, Raul Castro’s 52-year-old son, Alejandro, is a powerful figure in the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, and secretly negotiated the reopening of diplomatic relations with the US under former US president Barack Obama.

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