Cuba 28/03/11

Fidel Castro announces that he resigned as Party chief in 2006, as Cuban Minister for Economy and Planning is removed to oversee new economic reforms.

Fidel Castro announced, last Tuesday, that he resigned as Cuban Communist Party Chief when he fell ill in 2006, but that he continues to be a ‘soldier of ideas’. This declaration came as aside in a post, in his newspaper column titled Reflexiones (Reflections), largely commenting on President Barack Obama’s Latin America tour. However, he is still listed as First Secretary of the Partido Communista de Cuba (Cuban Communist Party) on its official website.

Castro’s statement comes ahead of next month’s Communist Party Congress that will discuss major economic reforms.  Some view this news as endorsement and legitimacy for the private enterprise initiatives being enacted by Raul Castro. Others believe that this is a way for Castro to preserve his legacy in the face of these economic changes. Critics also commented on the Cuban government’s lack of transparency because it was assumed that Fidel Castro was still the Party’s chief and it was expected that he was officially going to step down at the Party Congress next month. This recent news has further spurred speculations about succession in Cuba and its impact on US-Cuba relations.

Fidel Castro later said that the press had given too much importance to his words. He explained his statement by saying that he did not think it was necessary for him to concretely renounce each and every one of his official positions.

In other news, President Raul Castro replaced Marino Murillo the former chief of Economy and Planning with his deputy Adel Izquierdo Rodríguez. Marino Murillo will now focus on supervising reforms to Cuba’s economic model. This model is considered by some a move towards market socialism.  Encouraging self-employment is one of the major components of this new economic model. The Cuban government has recently granted 171,000 new licenses for private initiatives out of which approximately 10,000 were given to food vendors. This has caused an increase in demand for bread that is forcing the expansion of bread production on the island.

Former US President, Jimmy Carter, will visit Cuba next week in an attempt to further understand these economic changes and to find ways of creating bi-lateral ties between the two countries. Carter went to Cuba in 2002 making him the only American leader to visit the island since the revolution. Carter will meet with President Raul Castro and other officials to discuss the upcoming Party Congress. He will also meet with the leader of Cuba’s Catholic Church as well as the Cuban Jewish community. There are also conjectures about whether Carter will seek the release of Alan Gross, the American contractor recently sentenced to prison by a Cuban court for conducting subversive activities.

Carter’s visit comes at a time when tourism is thriving in Cuba. La Oficina Nacional de Estadística (The Cuban National Statistics Office) announced that over a million people had come to Cuba in the first two months of 2011. The number of tourist arrivals is almost 15% higher than the previous year.