Castro's brother opens door to reform

Cubans rest on a bench at a public park in downtown Havana.

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Scott Jagow: Fidel Castro hasn't been seen in public in about 18 months. His brother Raul has been running the country, and Raul did something no one expected: He started a conversation about what ails the Cuban economy.

This Sunday, Cuba holds parliamentary elections. We wanted to see if anything has changed since Raul took over. Dan Grech reports from our America's Desk at WLRN.


Dan Grech: Regardless of ideology, economists agree Fidel Castro has left Cuba's economy in tatters. When you adjust for inflation, per-capita income in Cuba in 1953 was $2,000. Today, it's under $200. Economist Antonio Jorge is with Florida International University:

Antonio Jorge: Fidel Castro is a political animal, not an economic animal. He doesn't care about economics. That he would consider to be bourgeois weaknesses.

Jorge says Fidel's brother Raul is different. Since taking over, Raul has initiated reforms in agriculture and transportation, and has legalized hard-currency payments to Cubans working in joint ventures.

Brian Latell at the University of Miami says Raul would like to open the economy even more.

Brian Latell: Raul is constrained because he and Fidel, in my view, are in sharp disagreement, profound disagreement about what should be happening in Cuba.

Latell says Raul has made the political calculation that he must reform the economy.

Latell: Raul recognizes, I believe, that he's got to make the system work better -- because he can't rule with same confidence, with the same charisma, with the same legitimacy as his brother for all these decades. Raul is going to have to give people bread.

Other Cuba analysts disagree that Fidel and Raul are split over economic policy. Kirby Jones runs the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association. He says since 1995, Fidel helped launch 235 joint ventures and opened the island to investment from around the world. Now Raul has begun a national dialogue on Cuba's economic ills.

Kirby Jones: What developed under Raul was essentially a national suggestion box. He opened up the dialogue in the factories, in schools, in hospitals -- every person had the chance to make their complaints known

But experts say this suggestion box may have opened a Pandora's box. Raul has raised people's expectations dangerously high, and he may not be able to deliver the major reforms economists say the island needs.

In Miami, I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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