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    In Cuba, Castro’s communist hard-liners dash hopes of reform

    In Cuba, 's communist hard-liners dash hopes of reform

    Raúl Castro has freed some political prisoners, talked of term limits,
    and announced plans to lay off half a million government workers. But
    he's chosen for his inner circle senior hard-liners who resist change.
    Until they leave, change will be limited.
    By John Hughes / June 16, 2011

    When first seized power more than 50 years ago, he got rid
    of Cuba's golf courses. Now tiptoeing toward some modest reforms, the
    government is giving preliminary approval for four luxury golf resorts.

    The problem is that there is no suggestion of any change in the harsh
    political regime. Cuba has been studying 's example of running a
    market under a communist political system, but Havana's attempts
    to jump-start a stagnant economy look nowhere near as innovative as

    The April Cuban Communist Party Congress, the first in 14 years, had
    been anticipated after hints by President Raúl Castro of change to come.
    But hopes of a leadership shake-up and the appointment of a younger and
    more vigorous team that would re-invigorate the system were dashed.

    IN PICTURES: Cuba economy

    Raúl succeeded his brother Fidel, who has been inactive because of
    illness, as the top party official. Instead of choosing a young, new
    successor-designate, the second-highest party slot went to an
    80-year-old communist placeholder, José Ramón Machado. Although Raúl
    bemoaned the absence of replacements with "sufficient experience and
    maturity," ambitious younger candidates have been discouraged or
    sidelined. The aim seems to be to retain the political system in place
    and offer some economic improvements to a disillusioned populace, but in
    the guise of updating the socialist model. As one Cuban , who held
    senior positions in the early years of Fidel Castro's ascendancy, put
    it: "Raúl is more of a communist than Fidel."

    Raúl Castro has freed some political prisoners. He has talked of two
    five-year term limits for himself and other politicians. He has
    announced, but postponed, plans to lay off half a million government
    workers. He has encouraged the emergence of small businesses instead of
    massive government employment. He has suggested curbing government
    handouts, such as the monthly ration books. But the state, backed
    by a powerful military whose generals are embedded throughout its
    infrastructure, remains paramount.

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    Where does this leave Cuba's relations with the US? Not coincidentally,
    the date for the Party Congress coincided with the 50th anniversary of
    the Bay of Pigs, the abortive US attempt to overthrow the Castro regime.
    Julia Sweig, director of Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign
    Relations, who recently had a memorable interview in Havana with Fidel
    Castro, puts it this way: The Cuban message is: "Just because we're
    changing doesn't mean that we're casting off our nationalism and our
    revolutionary ethos. Economic reform does not mean a concession to the
    United States."

    The Obama administration has lifted restrictions to Cuba for
    Cuban-Americans as well as restrictions on Cuban-Americans sending money
    to relatives in Cuba. American educational and religious institutions
    can also now send their representatives to Cuba.

    The White House has also moved to encourage more cultural and economic
    exchanges with Cuba, lessening the emphasis on regime change. The US
    government's radio and TV broadcasting to Cuba has been jammed by the
    Cuban regime over the years. Radio and TV Martí have used various means,
    including broadcasting signals from blimps and aircraft, to provide
    alternative news and information to Cubans subjected to propaganda from
    their own government-controlled media.

    Related: Evan Cuba finally gets it: Capitalism works

    Critics, including the US government's own watchdog agency, have faulted
    the Martí operations, and their cost, for their inability to reach a
    substantial Cuban audience. The broadcasts were recently reformatted to
    make them more relevant and to reach a younger audience.

    One complicating factor in the current US-Cuban relationship has been
    the Cuban arrest and sentencing to 15 years imprisonment of American
    . Mr. went to Cuba as the employee of a US company under
    contract to USAID, was kept under surveillance by Cuban intelligence
    agents, and was late in 2009 for alleged subversive acts
    against the government.

    For the moment the relationship is quiescent. The closeness of a
    communist country with a restless population and a dictatorial regime of
    uncertain future needs watching.

    John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column.