Raul Castro’s Economic Reforms a Work in Progress

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The reforms that President Raúl Castro initiated to modernize Cuba’s centrally planned economy “have borne mixed results” reports Marc Frank of Reuters. Some are moving forward, others have stalled or been slowed down, others have yet to begin. In agriculture, some progress has been made in leasing land to farmers; small businesses have expanded in number, though kept in check in terms of size; state companies have more autonomy, but still control 70 of the economy; private ownership of homes and cars is now permitted; taxes are being gradually implemented; and foreign investment is up. (Reuters)

Cuba’s National Assembly Opens Session Today for New President: Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power is meeting today to begin the process of selecting a new president to replace Raúl Castro. The transition is a historic benchmark for Cuba, which has been ruled by the Castro family since the 1959 Revolution – Fidel Castro until 2006, and Raúl since then. It also marks the passing of leadership to a new generation that was born after the Revolution. First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who turns 58 Friday, is the likely successor; Castro will remain head of the Communist Party to ensure an orderly transition of power. (Miami Herald)

Scientists Still Baffled by Embassy Staff Brain Injuries: Doctors and scientists remain baffled as to the cause of injuries sustained by personnel at the U.S. and Canadian embassies in Havana. But they do agree that they are real: Douglas Smith, director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, says that his examination of 24 affected U.S. personnel shows damage consistent with concussions. But the idea of a ‘sonic attack’ makes no sense, he says, since sound waves cannot have caused such damage. The U.S. still blames Cuba for what they call ‘targeted attacks’, while Cuba denies any involvement and has openly cooperated with the investigation. (Washington Post)

The Catholic Church in Cuba Rebuilds Itself: The Catholic Church in Cuba is undergoing a revival, say church officials, in a process that began with the visit by Pope John Paul II in 1998. Pope Francis also visited in 2015, after he helped broker the renewal of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Today, church parishes are growing in attendance, and everything from social services to training in entrepreneurship is being offered by the church. In many ways, the Catholic Church is the second largest institution in Cuba after the government, even though it was repressed after the Revolution. Today, about 10 percent of Cubans regularly attend Mass, up from 2 percent in the 1980s. The Vatican says 60 percent of Cubans are Catholic; the U.S. Department of State puts the number at between 40 and 45 percent. (National Catholic Reporter)

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