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September 24, 2017

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The lingering legacy of the Cold War in Cuba is fading

Cuba's President Raul Castro has made notable news by announcing on Feb. 24 that he will retire from that office in 2018. His older brother Fidel stepped down from the same post in 2008, after turning 85 years of age.

Reflecting the iron control the regime has exercised since early 1959, the designated successor to President Castro was announced simultaneously. Miguel Diaz-Miguel Bermudez, a protege of Raul, is a loyal functionary who has developed a reputation for bureaucratic effectiveness through administering rural provinces. At the age of 52, he arguably represents a youthful wave in this quiet geriatric pond. Given the extremely slow pace of change in Cuba, and the remarkable half-century tenure of the Brothers Castro, this benchmark event deserves some attention and reflection.

Last year marked the 15th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, when the world stood at the edge of general nuclear war. This was a singular event but also a punctuation mark in a very long history of difficulties between Havana and Washington.

Raul Castro by all accounts lacks the popular appeal of his older brother. Enemies join with admirers in agreeing that Fidel possessed a unique leadership style before age and illness led him to retire from the presidency. His singular charisma continues to facilitate the regime's half-century in power.

After Havana was captured and despised dictator Fulgencio Batista fled in early 1959, Raul Castro handled bloody mass executions with efficient dispatch, and since has provided effective leadership of the military and a pervasive domestic security apparatus.

Soon after taking power, the Castro brothers ended hopes for representative democracy and nationalized major industries, including U.S. corporate assets. Fidel Castro highlighted an alliance with the Soviet Union by joining Nikita Khrushchev in a remarkably raucous 1960 visit to the United Nations, in session in New York, punctuated by the Soviet leader publicly pounding a shoe on a desk.

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