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article imageCuba celebrates 60 years of revolution amongst challenges and change

By Carlos BATISTA (AFP)     Dec 31, 2018 in World

Cuba will celebrate 60 years of revolution on Tuesday amidst economic crises and political reforms, the first time it will mark such an anniversary without a revolutionary fighter in power.

The symbolic commemoration will take place in Santiago de Cuba at the foot of the tombs of national heroes Jose Marti and Fidel Castro, while the latter's brother Raul will give a speech.

For the first time since 1976, Cuba's president is not a Castro, after Miguel Diaz-Canel, 58, took over in April as president from Raul, who nonetheless retains significant influence.

Diaz-Canel wasn't even born when Fidel Castro declared on January 1, 1959: "At last we've arrived in Santiago. The road was long and hard, but we've arrived."

The United States-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista had fled the country earlier that day, leaving the way for Castro to install a communist one-party system.

Last week, Diaz-Canel wrote on Twitter: "The Cuban revolution is invincible, it grows, it lasts."

But not everyone is convinced.

Dissident Vladimiro Roca, whose father Blas Roca served as a high-ranking official under Fidel Castro, insists: "The revolution died a long time ago."

Abroad, Cuba's government has faced much criticism for its authoritarian nature, intolerance of opposition and persecution of detractors. Vladimiro Roca was jailed from 1997 to 2002 for his protests.

And while relations between Cuba and the US thawed under Barack Obama, the Caribbean island of 11 million people has had to contend with an increasingly hostile administration under President Donald Trump these last two years.

Change is coming, though.

Since Raul Castro (left) handed power to Miguel Diaz-Canel (right) in April  2018 Cuba has been left...
Since Raul Castro (left) handed power to Miguel Diaz-Canel (right) in April, 2018 Cuba has been left without a Castro as its president for the first time in more than 40 years
Yamil LAGE, AFP/File

The communist regime submits to referendum in February a new constitution which will officially recognize private property, markets and foreign investment.

However, it also ratifies communism as the "social goal," insists the country will "never" return to capitalism, and defines the Communist Party as "unique" and the "supreme political force of State and society."

- 'New Cycle' -

Aside from constitutional changes, there are also set to be economic ones following a landmark deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation that will allow the island's top talents to sign multi-million dollar deals with MLB clubs.

"For sure a new cycle is being opened. This cycle is continuity and change," academic Arturo Lopez-Levy, from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, told AFP.

That's not the view of Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

"For now, it looks like castrism without a Castro" in power, he said.

Dissident Vladimiro Roca  holding a picture of his late father Blas Roca  a close ally of Fidel Cast...
Dissident Vladimiro Roca, holding a picture of his late father Blas Roca, a close ally of Fidel Castro, says the revolution "died a long time ago"
ADALBERTO ROQUE, AFP

Vladimiro Roca, for his part, believes the revolution "will blow itself out" due to the indifference of the new generations and a lack of outside support.

Russia and China remain allies, but neither has shown willingness to subsidize the country's economy in the way the former Soviet Union did for 30 years.

Diaz-Canel has repeated many times that the "most important battle is the economy," which has barely grown one percent in recent years, an insufficient amount to support its population.

- Squaring the circle -

Key dates in the Cuban revolution  which turns 60 in 2019.
Key dates in the Cuban revolution, which turns 60 in 2019.
Nicolas RAMALLO, AFP

For many Cubans, their hopes for an improved lifestyle depend "on whether they can work for themselves or emigrate," said Duany.

Once the world's primary exporter of sugar, Cuba recently had to import that commodity from France, while over the last few weeks, eggs, rice and flour have disappeared from supermarket aisles.

It leaves "Diaz-Canel and his team with the challenge of applying a contradictory policy," said Lopez-Levy.

The country is institutionalizing the revolution during economic crisis, while the Communist Party creates a market economy in which inhabitants can get rich in a society based on egalitarian principals.

"The challenge is to square the circle in order to avoid sinking," said Lopez-Levy.

It's not a hopeless dream, though, in a country that has resisted a US-led embargo since 1962 by showing "its ability to adapt, identifying and applying policies that manage to meet the challenges," he said.

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