This will be an end of an era for Cuba and a new beginning hopefully between the U.S. and Cuba if Raul Castro does actually retire. In Havana on Friday, Cuban president shocked everyone by announcing he may leave his post saying he is old and has the right to retire, but did not announce when the move would be made. On Sunday, he will be named by parliament to a new five year term and Castro urges reporters to listen to his speech. He announced the news while at a joint appearance with visiting Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev with a huge smile on his face making it hard for people to tell if he was joking. Castro explained,”I am going to be 82 years old. I have the right to retire, don’t you think?” When reporters tried to ask him further what he meant, Castro told them to stop questioning his decision and listen to his speech on Sunday. The tone of his comments were light and informal at the mausoleum dedication to soldiers from the former Soviet Union who died around the world. The Cuban leader has alluded to the desire to implement a two term limit for all Cuban government positions including the presidency as well as his limited time to overhaul the weak Marxist economy. Many have made the conclusion that this upcoming term will be his last even though no term limits exist in Cuban law. No remarks or comments have come from Washington yet.
Most Havana residents who did not know of Castro’s comments were skeptical none the less about his retirement. Castro will be 86 when his term is up in 2018 and most people right now are more focused on who will be his first and second vice president during Sundays proceedings. The positions as of now are taken by two loyal octogenarians who fought in the 1959 revolution. If Castro puts someone younger into one of these positions then for most it would be sign that he was positioning that person to be his next generation successor something he and his brother Fidel never have done. In his December 2010 year end speech to lawmakers, Castro explained that,”The time we have left is short, the task is enormous…I think we have an obligation … to set (the country) on the right course.” When an if Raul Castro leaves the political arena, it would end the more than half a century rule of two brothers who came to power in 1959 against U.S. backed strongman Fulgencio Batista. Armando Gutierrez, a 78 year old Cuban American in Florida and 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion vet, said he hopes Castro was serious about retiring but doubts his successor will bring true political change.
Relations with the United States have been sour since the revolution as one of the key provisions of the 51 year U.S. economic embargo on Cuba states that the embargo cannot be lifted until the Castros are no longer in power. Since taking over for Fidel who is 86 and retired, Raul Castro has made a series of economic and social reform policy, however the island is still ruled by one party. The elder brother also met with the Russian prime minister according to Cuban state run media and the Communist party paper Granma reports the two countries signed an agreement to restructure $20 billion in Soviet era debt Cuba owes. The debt has been a sore point for both countries over the years as it originally was built up in rubles to pay for Soviet services in the 1980s leaving Cuba to question how much it is worth today.