Cuban state television has broadcast the first pictures of Fidel Castro in six months. The silent video shows the ailing revolutionary in discussion with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Castro’s exact medical condition is a state secret, but serious enough for him to have handed over power to his younger brother Raul. After four months of Raul’s regime the government has introduced a number of economic changes as he attempts to improve the country’s sluggish state-run economy.
He has lifted wage caps and restrictions on some consumer goods, while toasters will be available in 2010, prompting many to believe that Cuba may adopt a Chinese model of market socialism.
However, the reform-minded Raul intends to keep the Cuban economy firmly in state hands while making it more efficient.
But Raul’s measures have drawn criticism from many, including award winning blogger Yoani Sanchez. She believes Raul’s promises of change are vague and his reforms do little to improve the lives of ordinary Cubans.
You can buy a computer in Havana, but internet access is something else. “The main argument given by the government for no internet access is the technical impossibility to connect via submarine cables. I don’t see anything changing. I don’t see the government announcing ‘OK, everyone can now connect to the internet’.”
Raul’s reforms mark a change, but the iron hand of the state remains, political dissent is seen as betrayal and opponents considered mercenaries. As it stands, 240 political prisoners are languishing in Cuban jails. In 2003 alone 75 were sentenced to jail terms ranging from five to 28 years.
The European Union is considering abolishing sanctions against Cuba. It could act as a carrot for Castro to introduce more reform and set the EU at odds with Washington on how to deal with the Caribbean island.