April 2018
Position Papers

Cuba in Transition: Issues to Watch 2018-2023

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This week [April 16, 2018], Cuba begins an important transition. On April 19, 2018, Raúl Castro steps down as head of state. An as-yet unnamed successor elected by Cuba’s National Assembly — presumably First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel — will take his place. We do not know whether Raúl Castro will remain a member of the Council of State (the highest executive branch of the government, over which the President presides). He will continue as First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party through 2021, separating leadership of government administration and the Party bureaucracy for the first time. But, however partial, Castro’s retirement portends the ultimate passing of the Revolution’s “founding generation” from power. Rumors that he is planning to move to Santiago de Cuba, far from the seat of national government in Havana, suggest, at the very least, a symbolic break. 

What this all means has been subject to much comment and speculation. Yet, in the absence of clear information — let alone a public platform of ideas and concrete policy proposals from aspirants to Cuba’s highest leadership posts — no one has a crystal ball. 

Instead, in the following pages we outline six key issues to watch as the new leadership takes office and faces a series of inherited challenges during its first term (2018-2023). Ranging from unresolved financial quandaries to renewed tensions with the United States, these dilemmas make one thing clear. With an economy on the rocks and an unfavorable external environment, Cuba will enter a new political era from a position of considerable uncertainty.

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