Before continuing with any other blog posts about what we learned, I thought it might be useful to discuss what we did not hear about. Castro. In short, we had no discussions with any of our speakers about any potential changes to the political system. No speaker really talked to us about what the government will be like after Fidel and/or Raul Castro are no longer around. We all can do the math–Fidel Castro is turning 90 this year and Raul Castro is turning 85–so this phase of the Cuban government will change soon. (And here is a picture of Fidel welcoming cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin to Cuba in 1961 from the Museum of the Revolution–about the only place to really see lots of Fidel pictures and old propaganda)
Raul has said separately that he will retire in 2018. But, as to whether there will be an election, whether there will be a multiparty system created, or any other structural changes, we heard nothing. Since our return, some have asked me whether I think there ever could be “real” change to Cuba without a change in government. And one could read the deafening silence on this topic as though there will not be change.
I disagree. I think the incredible rapid changes in the economy (from 16% of workers in the private economy only 4 years ago to 35% likely this year, for example), the likely influx of Americans (both of Cuban descent and not, estimated at over 500,000 per year), as well as the opening of the internet will shift Cuban society in ways we cannot yet see. And I imagine by the time we hopefully return with another group of students, there will even be speakers we can talk to about political change as well!