Raul Castro permanently succeeded his elder brother as Cuba’s president in 2008, but he is believed to have led the communist country for more than a decade prior to Fidel’s death last month.
Although Raul was part of the revolution that brought Fidel to power in 1959, he remained in the political background, holding several positions while being regarded as Fidel’s second in command. When his succession became official in 2008, he began enacting political, economic and social reforms, including restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States. But the changes fell far short of what many observers had hoped for.
By the time Raul permanently took over the country, his wife had died (in 2007) and his four children were grown. He began reshaping Cuba’s socialist programs, allowed businesses to be owned by citizens, loosened travel restrictions and foreign investment, brought in his own people to staff his cabinet, and set limits on presidential terms, which would legally force him to step down in 2018.
It appears things are accelerating for the better judging by some important changes in the short time since Fidel’s death. Here are the most important (not listed in terms of importance):
1. Three cruise companies — Pearl, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean — are among several that were rushing to conclude deals with Cuba before the start of President-elect Donald Trump’s administration. These new cruise itineraries start in early 2017. Simply put, this means a lot more engagement, cash flow and commerce between the U.S. and Cuba. Here is the outlook for the cruise industry in Cuba in 2017.
2. Cuban farmers are allowed to hire laborers directly rather than through cooperatives. This news emerged amid media reports of tourists causing shortages of food in the island nation – despite vast amounts of fertile soil and plenty of labor. “The new resolution aim fundamentally to stimulate the hiring of workers related to agricultural labor in an agile, orderly and legal way,” according to Cuban state-run media.
3. ETECSA, Cuba’s monopoly telecommunications company, this month announced a price reduction for Internet browsing at its Wi-Fi hot spots around the country. Effective immediately, the new price was reduced to 1.50 CUC (equivalent to 1.65 USD) per hour from 2.00 CUC.
4. Data for Google services will be stored on Google servers in Cuba, under a deal announced last week between the company and the Cuban government. As the Associated Press reports, the deal will not expand public internet access in Cuba, one of the world’s least-connected countries, but it is expected to decrease load times for Google services like Gmail and YouTube. Speeds for non-Google services will likely not be affected.