February 25, 2008

Fidel Castro’s 49-Year Reign Ends in Cuba

Nearly 50 years of rule by Fidel Castro ended in Cuba on Sunday, as parliament chose his brother Raul to replace him as president.

But two WVU professors and a few area residents don't think it will make much difference.

"I don't think it will change anything," said Mitch Liston, 31, of Morgantown. "It's his brother, so Raul will try to live up to his brother's ideals."

Roger Hollis, 70, of Morgantown, remembers when a naval blockade of Cuba nearly started a nuclear war in 1962, during the Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis ushered in a longstanding trade and travel embargo.

"From all that I've heard about the guy, he's going to be a worse dictator than his brother," Hollis said. "So I'd say yes, we should maintain that embargo."

Barbara Ferrell, 56, of Morgantown, is slightly more optimistic about Raul, 75, though she contends there is a better way.

"I think he's better than [Fidel] Castro," she said. "But, I think you really need someone who is not related to the current dictator to do the job."

Cindy McDonald, 33, of Bruce- ton Mills, said the change in Cuba's leadership doesn't matter.

"I've never heard of him and it doesn't affect me at all," she said. "Anyway, I have no plans to visit Cuba any time soon. I'm a Morgantown person."

William N. Trumbull is the director of the Division of Economics and Finance. He taught a course on the country's economy in which he took students to Cuba. He visited Cuba nine times between 1998 and 2004.

Trumbull said there may be a U.S. policy shift with regard to Cuba. He said Congress has come close a number of times to eliminating the travel ban. The trade embargo exists in name only.

"With President Bush out of the way [soon], it is hard to believe that the travel ban will not be eliminated or, at least, eased," he said. "And with so many farming and business interests lining up in favor of doing business with Cuba, and with the old hardline Miami Cuban-American crowd dying off, it's hard to believe that some change is not in the offing, sooner rather than later, in terms of the trade embargo."

David M. Hauser is a senior lecturer with WVU's department of political science. He said the transition is not likely to bring a major shift in policies of the communist government that have put it at odds with the U.S.

"Raul is thought to be a more pragmatic, less ideological individual than Fidel," he said. "Thus, it's possible that Cuba won't be making as many waves as Fidel Castro did. Raul is less likely, for example, to deliberately anger the U.S. by making nice to [President Hugo] Chavez in Venezuela, unless Cuba/Raul actually gets something out of making nice to Chavez in Venezuela."

Hauser said U.S. policies and the trade embargo would probably remain because the State Department takes its overall direction from the president. With the exception of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, both parties are inclined toward the status quo on relations with Cuba.

Brandon Smoot traveled to Cuba shortly before he graduated with a degree in political science and economics at WVU in 2004.

"Nothing is going to be any different," he said. "The fact is that the Communist Party totalitarian structure Castro put into place is not going to collapse."

Smoot traveled to Havana and saw little economic development and a crumbling infrastructure.

"In the States, we have a biased picture of Cuba because of the influence of politics since the Cuban revolution with events such as the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis," he said. "From that moment on, things were never the same. It never turned around. Opening trade would be better than the status quo. Right now we are in a lose-lose situation."