Castro signals retirement, chooses successor

Last updated 14:15 26/02/2013
Raul Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel
CONTINUING ON: Raul Castro announces his successor as Cuban president is Miguel Diaz-Canel.

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For more than five decades, Cuban exiles in Miami have waited for the Castro brothers to be out of power. 

The firmest step toward that happening came Sunday (NZT Monday) when Raul Castro announced he planned to retire as president within five years.

 And yet, when the news reached Florida’s shores it created little more than a quiet ripple of apathy.

‘‘Cuba doesn’t matter to me anymore,’’ Luis Sanz, 85, said as he watched friends play dominoes.

A year after the 1959 revolution, Sanz left behind his clothing store in the Cuban city of Camaguey and started a new life in Miami. He never returned.

Many older Cubans vowed not to return until the Raul and Fidel Castro were dead. 

Now it appears retirement — rather than death — will mark the end of their days in power.

Raul Castro has tapped Miguel Diaz-Canel to be his top lieutenant and possible successor. So there is no celebration in Miami. And no protest either.

‘‘I think everybody thought there would be a way of getting even for all the things that had taken place,’’ said Andy Gomez, a senior political fellow at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

‘‘It’s a little bit almost anti-climactic. It’s a little bit of the same.’’

Raul Castro has instituted numerous economic and social reforms since taking power after his older brother fell ill in 2006.

Under his leadership, private enterprise has expanded, a real estate market was legalised and travel restrictions relaxed.

In his speech Sunday (NZT Monday), Castro said he hoped to establish two-term limits and age caps for political offices as well. But the core tenets of socialism would remain, he vowed.

Domingo Amuchastegui, a former Cuban diplomat in Guatemala, said the 52-year-old Diaz-Canel was unlikely to make any major departures from Raul and Fidel Castro’s ideology.

‘‘He will continue redesigning the system in Cuba, as they are redesigning it now,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s a new conceptualisation, a redesign of the socialist system, adapting, improving it.’’

Cuban exiles and politicians in Miami resoundingly said they would not recognise Diaz-Canel a legitimate leader if he rose to the presidency.

‘‘What today was white, tomorrow is red and yesterday was blue,’’ said Alberto Faustino, 74, describing what he saw as the Cuban government’s erratic decision making.

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Faustino left Cuba 12 years ago to join his two sons in the United States.

He said the selection of Diaz-Canel is no change at all. And Raul Castro’s announcement caused him neither happiness nor anger.

‘‘Nothing,’’ he said.

In the past, an announcement like the one Castro made on Sunday might have provoked a stronger public reaction. But that has changed in recent years as the first generation of exiles dwindles and newer arrivals have more economic concerns.

Patricia de la Rosa, 45, the manager of an ice cream shop in Little Havana, said her mother’s generation had mostly abandoned the idea of returning or seeing change in Cuba.

‘‘For me, I think anything is possible,’’ de la Rosa said.

‘‘Who’s to say that things won’t change? But it’s going to take a lot.’’

On Monday, there was little excitement over that possibility in Little Havana.

Tourists arrived on a double decker bus and took pictures of exiles playing dominoes.

Salsa music and the sounds of a man playing a conga drum rang out from a store selling T-shirts with Cuban sayings. Among each other, the old Cuban men only sighed with disappointment.

‘‘We’ve waited a very long time, and to wait five more years, it’s a bad dream,’’ Gomez said. ‘‘It’s a novela that has been written very wrong, and we just don’t see the end.’’

- AP

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