Raul Castro has served as Cuba’s Provisional President for over 18 months, but his political skills will be further tested over the next year as he deals with heightened public expectations for economic improvement in food availability, housing, transportation, salaries, and meaningful employment. His actions to date indicate that he is looking for ways to bring about economic changes through a modest, though not a sweeping transformation of Cuba’s Communist economic model. Raul Castro has publicly called for contact with the United States on Havana’s terms aimed ultimately at bringing about an end to the US embargo.
We judge Raul’s most likely approach will be cautious, incremental steps to make the agricultural sector more productive, to allow some private sector expansion through the creation of more small-scale enterprises, and to attract new foreign investment. If Raul moves forward, he probably will take pains to ensure elite consensus. Senior Cuban officials have made clear that there are no plans to permit competitive elections or otherwise alter the Communist Party’s monopoly of power. Indeed, the determination of the Cuban leadership to ignore outside pressure to carry out significant economic and political reform continues to be reinforced by the more than $1 billion net annual subsidy that Venezuela provides to sustain Cuba.
Policy missteps or the mishandling of a crisis by the leadership could lead to political instability in Cuba, raising the risk of mass migration. We assess the political situation is likely to remain stable at least in the initial months following Fidel Castro’s death and do not expect to see overt signs of major cleavage in the ruling elite because many of the top Party and armed forces leaders were hand-picked by Raul Castro. Moreover, senior Party and government officials probably would not want to jeopardize their futures by forcefully challenging regime decisions. Pro-democracy dissidents continue to be harassed and to risk lengthy prison sentences for minor public criticism of the regime.