Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Cuba inches in right direction

    Cuba inches in right direction

    February 27, 2013

    By Dale McFeatters

    Raul Castro was rubber-stamped Sunday into another term as Cuba's

    president. He says this term will be his last and that he will retire in

    2018. In 54 years, Cubans have had only two presidents — not that they

    had much choice in the matter — Raul, 81, and his ailing older brother

    Fidel, 86, the country's long-serving dictator who stepped aside for

    Raul only when ill health forced him to.

    Bypassing an entire generation of aging Castroites, Raul named Miguel

    Diaz-Canel, 52, as his new first vice president and heir apparent.

    Diaz-Canel replaces Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 81, who fought alongside

    the Castros in the Cuban revolution.

    Raul praised Machado Ventura for his patriotism and selflessness in

    making way for Diaz-Canel, although voluntarily relinquishing power has

    not been a hallmark of the Castros' Cuba.

    Raul told a gathering of legislative leaders that he plans to establish

    two-term limits for Cuba's top political offices and establish age

    limits for holding those offices. These may be well-intentioned reforms,

    but they would also assure that no future leaders challenge the Castro

    brothers for their place in Cuba's history books.

    Raul reiterated his commitment "to defend, maintain and continue to

    perfect socialism," but while in office he nibbled at the edges of

    Cuba's pervasive state socialism, allowing certain types of private

    businesses and real estate ownership, and easing travel restrictions.

    Those steps were small and slow in coming, but at least they were in the

    right direction if Cuba is ever to gain a modicum of prosperity.

    Diaz-Canel, an electrical engineer by training, is a former minister of

    higher education and headed the Communist Party in two provinces. He

    learned quickly when a charismatic patron of his was dumped by the

    Castros that the better part of valor was to be neither seen nor heard.

    He apparently excels in backroom politics, a skill he will need because,

    while Raul sees him as the heir apparent, it's a safe bet that a lot of

    Cuban politicians, their ambitions bottled up by the long rule of the

    Castros, do not.

    Meanwhile, Raul could celebrate his second term and indicate his desire

    for friendly relations with the U.S. by releasing Alan Gross, 63, a

    USAID contractor who was arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in

    prison for illegally bringing communications equipment onto the island.

    Gross' crime was apparently trying to link Cuba's small Jewish community

    to other Jewish communities by providing Internet connections. Most of

    the civilized world does not see this as a crime and neither should Cuba.

    Dale McFeatters writes for Scripps Howard News Service.