As Cuba celebrates the 55th anniversary of the revolution on Saturday, Cubans are starting to reap the benefits of the digital age, with mobile phone and computer ownership now going through the roof.
Cubans on Saturday are to mark the 55th anniversary of the revolution that brought communism to their island, which is now in an uncertain transition brought on by Fidel Castro passing power to his brother Raul.
Raul Castro will give a speech in Santiago de Cuba marking the date, July 26, 1953, that he, his brother and their supporters began the overthrow of the previous regime to install their own, initially modelled on Marxist philosophy.
They succeeded in 1959, and Fidel Castro, the father of that revolution, ruled until July 2006, when an undisclosed ailment requiring intestinal surgery forced him to hand the reins to his younger brother.
Raul Castro officialized his reign in February this year, when he was named Fidel's successor as president.
He has embarked on a number of small reforms, among them allowing Cubans to buy mobile telephones and computers, or to stay in luxury hotels previously open only to foreigners.
Others, such as the right to own private taxis, and to own some farmland, and the lifting of salary ceilings, have been approved and are waiting to be applied.
But the scope and depth of further change is unknown.
To some, Raul Castro, 77, appears to still be finding his feet politically, and is caught between his stated will to promote "structural" reforms and a powerful bureaucracy resisting alteration.
He also has to acknowledge the hardline influence of his brother, who has not been seen in public since going into convalescence after his surgery.
Then there is the US presidential campaign, whose outcome could have an effect on the US embargo on Cuba.
Democrat candidate Barack Obama is seen as far more favorable to a change in relations with Cuba than his Republican rival John McCain.
Washington has dismissed Raul Castro's reforms so far as "cosmetic" only and, with Europe, has demanded political prisoners be released and dissidence tolerated.
Many Cubans are keen to see more opening, too, but fear their new president will lack the will, or the ability, to overhaul the ultra-rigid socialism under which they live.
They want the liberty to open their own stores and services, to buy and sell houses and cars, and to travel abroad. The end of Cuba's double currency system is also aspired to.
In that context, Raul Castro's speech Saturday will have to reassure and convince, especially in light of the promises he made a year ago.
Then, he denounced the "absurdities" of Cuba's bureaucracy and called for deep changes "that are necessary."
Saturday will also mark the day, two years ago, that Fidel Castro, 82, was felled by the internal bleeding that led to him renouncing power four days later.
Apart from occasional images of him always in the same red and white tracksuit, the only signs of the man who led Cuba for nearly five decades are "reflections" published from time in the official state press.
With his exit still clouded in mystery, few Cubans believe he will ever return to power.
And for many younger residents, he has already passed from being a larger-than-life leader to a legend whose features -- and perhaps ideology -- have faded into the shadows of the past.
Date created : 2008-07-26