Younger Castro Brother Turns 80

CBS reports that Cuban President Raul Castro will turn 80 on Friday, June 3, 2011, but that this event will likely not receive much attention: “Raul and Fidel—who turns 85 on Aug. 13—have historically eschewed public celebrations of their birthdays.” Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

But the milestone is sure to remind supporters and detractors alike that the era of the Castros is nearing its end, biologically if not politically. [. . .] Ann Louise Bardach, a longtime Cuba expert and author of “Without Fidel” and “Cuba Confidential” [. . .] gave Raul credit for having the courage to push an agenda of economic change since taking over the presidency, but said he missed a great chance to bring in new leadership at a key Communist Party summit in April when he selected old-guard revolutionaries Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 80, and Ramiro Valdes, 79, as his Nos. 2 and 3. “Their challenge is that they must bring in a younger generation, but instead Raul picked someone even older than him as his chief deputy,” she said. “It just shows how unconfident they are. They missed an opportunity.”

[. . .] Since taking office, Raul has legalized some forms of self-employment, turned over fallow government land to small-time farmers and promised to trim the state’s bloated payroll by 500,000 workers. He also has pledged to legalize the sale of cars and homes, end restrictions on Cubans traveling abroad and open up credit to would-be entrepreneurs—though those proposals remain part of a vague five-year plan and many are still skeptical.

[. . .] Those with long years of involvement in the island’s affairs say Raul’s birthday is a moment for reflection. Wayne Smith, who was a young foreign service officer in Havana when President John F. Kennedy pulled U.S. diplomats off the island in 1961, said he never thought at the time that the Castros would still be in power all these years later, nor that Cuba would still be America’s enemy. “Good Lord, no,” chuckled Smith, who is now a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for International Policy. “When we left in 1961, I expected to be back shortly. Here we are more than 50 years after the revolution and we still haven’t come to a decent relationship with them.”

Smith, who returned to Havana as America’s chief diplomat in 1979 and remains an outspoken opponent of Washington’s 49-year trade embargo, said he was hopeful Raul Castro could make good on his economic overhaul now that he is in command and out from under his charismatic brother’s shadow.

The original report can be found at

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