Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mr Popular

As you would have read elsewhere, Cubans with access to hard cash have been busily snapping up mobile phone connections across the island over the past 24 hours or so.

This follows a decision by Raul Castro earlier this month to lift what have been described as “annoying restrictions” that had previously been imposed on long-suffering Cubans by, well, by Raul Castro and his semi-retired brother, Fidel Castro.

Those restrictions barred ordinary Cubans (as opposed to Communist Party heavyweights) from buying certain electronic goods, having access to mobile phones and computers, or staying in luxury hotels.

Given the reaction on the streets of Havana, as reported by international media, there is no doubt that these small economic “reforms” have been embraced by those few Cubans who can afford such little luxuries. But what about the bulk of the population? You know, those who get paid by the State in worthless Cuban pesos and have no access to hard cash?

Well, if you believe this report by Will Weissert of the Associated Press, the lifting of these restrictions is nothing short of a political master stroke by the regime designed to make the “uncharismatic” Raul Castro popular.

And as far as Mr Weissert is concerned, it’s working.

Referring to Castro II, our Havana correspondent writes: “His popularity has surged as a result, defusing questions about whether his relative lack of charisma would make governing Cuba more difficult after his older ailing older brother Fidel formally stepped down in February”.

Maybe he is right.

Who knows? Given this surge in popularity, perhaps Raul Castro will now put it to the test by holding free and fair multi-party elections?


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