Cuba without fidel
On February 19, 2008, Fidel Castro announced
to Cuba and to the world that
he would not be a candidate for Cuba’s presidency.
This ended the nearly fifty-year reign of
one of the longest serving leaders in the world.
The Cuban National Assembly elected Fidel’s
brother Raúl as president on February 24.
Raúl Castro has passed a number of reforms
since coming to power, indicating that he is
more open to change than his brother. But so
far these reforms have not led to any substantial
changes in the standard of living for most
Fidel Castro’s absence from government
has renewed international attention on Cuba.
It has also highlighted the diverging views that
outsiders have of Cuba and its history, particularly
since the mid-twentieth century. The
1959 Revolution, led by Castro, fundamentally
changed Cuba’s government, economy, and
society. The Revolution has meant different
things to different people. While it brought
opportunities and advances that were long
denied to many Cubans, others lost property,
jobs, and the positions they held in Cuban
Cubans also have very different opinions
about their country and its history, and this
affects how they think about the future. Many
issues that have been important throughout
Cuban history are gaining new significance as
Cubans think about a Cuba without Fidel Castro.
For example, the involvement of foreign
countries in Cuba, which has long been a controversial
issue in Cuban politics, has become
even more pressing in the past few decades
as the country opens itself up to tourism and
foreign investment. Problems of racism and
racial discrimination have also become more
apparent in recent years. Additionally, people
are increasingly frustrated by the government’s
constantly changing economic strategies.
Today, life for most people in Cuba is not
easy. Wages are low and the economy suffers
from periodic shortages of essential goods. The
government controls the press and the unions,
and frequently censors art and literature.
Those who oppose government policies and
push for democratic reforms are often imprisoned.
Thousands of Cubans have left the
island over the last five decades. Today, more
than one million Cuban immigrants and their
descendants live in the United States alone.
At the same time, many Cubans are proud
of gains their country has made over the last
fifty years. They are guaranteed free health
care and education. Students from around
the world come to study in Cuba’s medical
schools. Many of Cuba’s social indicators, such
as infant mortality rate and life expectancy,
rival those of industrialized countries and are
much better than those of other developing
Cuba has undergone profound changes in
the last two decades, and many people both
within Cuba and around the world wonder
what will happen on the island in the coming
years. In these readings and the activities
that accompany them, you will be asked to
step into the shoes of ordinary Cubans on
the island and consider Cuba’s future in the
post-Fidel era. The readings trace Cuba’s history
from the country’s pre-colonial past to
its most recent economic, social, and political
changes. You will be asked to consider important
questions: Should Cuba continue along
the path started by Fidel Castro? How should
Cuba relate to its neighbors and the rest of the
world? What values will be most important
to Cubans in the coming years? What should
Cuba’s future be?