Cuba hopes for new freedoms



HAVANA – Now that Fidel Castro has retired, many Cubans are looking to his brother to let more people open businesses, own homes and even travel abroad. But it will probably fall to a new generation of leaders to ultimately fulfill or frustrate their dreams of prosperity.

During his 1« years as acting president, 76-year-old Raul Castro has hinted at reform but made few major changes – a reticence many see as a sign of respect for his beloved, more doctrinaire older brother, who survived despite the efforts of 10 U.S. presidents to bring him down.

And while hoping that Raul and his likely No. 2, Carlos Lage, will advocate for change, they wonder how that will fly with Fidel, who stepped down but isn’t going away.

“There has to be some change, more freedom with Raul,” said Andres, 63, who like many Cubans wouldn’t give his last name for fear of reprisal when talking about the Castro brothers. “The other one always nipped that off at the bud.”

The resignation, announced Tuesday, should give Raul Castro the autonomy he lacked as the government’s caretaker since Fidel was sidelined by intestinal surgery in July 2006.

The younger Castro raised expectations of openings in the state-controlled economy with his reported fascination with Chinese-style capitalism, calls for unspecified “structural changes,” and acknowledgment that government wages averaging $19 a month do not satisfy basic needs. He also encouraged Cubans to open a fearless and critical debate, as long as they remember that the final decisions will be made by the island’s Communist leaders.

“That way we reach decisions, and I’m talking about big decisions,” he told student leaders in December 2006.

Many Cubans want to hear more such talk from their next leader. Inspired by Raul, some leading Cuban cultural figures have called recently for dropping onerous visa requirements and other limits on their freedoms, a message that resonates with ordinary Cubans.

“This is what we needed. I hope to God people have more freedom – the freedom to have opinions and always speak their minds,” 37-year-old Lydis Perez said after dropping her son off at school. “People talk in the hallways or the back rooms. … There’s a lot of fear.”

Fidel Castro, however, insisted in his resignation letter Tuesday that he won’t disappear – or stay quiet if he sees his revolution going astray.

“This is not my farewell to you,” he wrote. “My only wish is to fight as a soldier in the battle of ideas. I shall continue to write under the title, ‘Reflections of Comrade Fidel.’ It will be another weapon you can count on. Perhaps my voice will be heard.”

As the Council of State’s first vice president, Raul Castro has been his brother’s constitutionally designated successor for decades, so the big question is who will take his place as No. 2 on Sunday

.Associated Press Writer Will Weissert contributed to this report.