In 2008 Raul Castro took over a rustic the place most individuals could not personal computer systems or cellphones, go away with out permission, run most sorts of non-public companies or enter resort inns.

Castro set about re-engineering the system he had helped create and Cuba opened dramatically over his decade in workplace. However when Castro steps down as president Thursday he’ll go away his successor a number of issues which can be deeper than on the day his brother Fidel formally handed over energy.

Cuba has almost 600,000 non-public entrepreneurs, greater than 5 million cellphones, a bustling actual property market and one of many world’s fastest-growing airports. International debt has been paid. Tourism numbers have greater than doubled since Castro and President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations in 2015, making Cuba a vacation spot for almost 5 million guests a yr, regardless of a plunge in relations below the Trump administration.

On the opposite facet of the ledger, Cuba’s Soviet-style command financial system nonetheless employs three of each 4 Cuban employees however produces little. Non-public sector development has been largely frozen. The common month-to-month state wage is $31 — so low that employees typically dwell on stolen items and handouts from relations abroad. International funding stays anemic. The island’s infrastructure is falling deeper into disrepair. The break with Washington dashed goals of detente with the U.S., and after twenty years of getting Venezuelan subsidies totaling greater than $6 billion a yr, Cuba’s patron has collapsed economically with no substitute within the wings.

Castro’s incapability or unwillingness to repair Cuba’s structural issues with deep and wide-ranging reforms has many questioning how a successor with out Castro’s founding father credentials will handle the nation over the following 5 or 10 years.

“Folks in Cuba actually have not processed but what it means to have a authorities with out Raul or Fidel main it,” mentioned Yassel Padron Kunakbaeva, a prolific 27-year-old blogger who writes steadily from what he describes as a Marxist, revolutionary perspective. “We’re getting into unknown territory.”

Tens of hundreds of extremely educated professionals are abandoning the island annually, leaving Cuba with the mixture of third-world financial system and the demographics of a graying European nation. After a 2016 recession, Cuba mentioned development was 1.6 p.c final yr, though official accounts stay opaque and questioned by specialists. The one-party authorities controls just about all types of expression and group, with near-zero tolerance of public criticism or dissent. The temper on the road is pessimistic, with few anticipating a greater future anytime quickly.

“The political way forward for whoever takes over in April depends upon the financial query,” mentioned Jose Raul Viera Linares, a former first deputy minister of international affairs. “It is the chance for younger individuals to dream, to design their very own future. That is all primarily based within the materials wealth that this nation is ready to obtain.”

The best instant problem for Castro’s anticipated successor — 57-year-old Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez — is unwinding a byzantine dual-currency system that includes one kind of Cuban peso price four cents and one other that’s almost a greenback. The system was designed to insulate a state-run, egalitarian inner market utilizing “nationwide cash” from commerce with the surface world denominated in “convertible pesos.”

The barrier between the 2 worlds swiftly collapsed and the system has fostered large financial distortions. Inefficient state enterprises obtain mammoth subsidies by acquiring costly convertible pesos for the worth of the cheaper “Cuban peso.” The twin-currency system additionally permits non-public companies to obtain sponsored items and companies like water and electrical energy in Cuban pesos, then flip round and cost their comparatively rich shoppers in convertible pesos at a big revenue.

Castro known as for elimination of the twin currencies from the start of his presidency, however by no means received round to it. In one in all his ultimate speeches final yr he known as as soon as once more for the system’s pressing elimination, a course of that many count on to start out in Diaz-Canel’s first yr in energy. Eliminating twin forex is broadly seen as mandatory for Cuba’s financial system to develop, but it surely carries dangers of inflation and main disruption for inefficient state companies whose sponsored steadiness sheets will lastly change into comprehensible when they’re denominated in a single forex.

These state companies gained new rivals as Castro expanded the house for capitalism within the Cuban financial system by allowing non-public enterprise in dozens of fields starting from agriculture to hospitality to building.

“We have risen up economically. The brand new potentialities have modified my life, in fact,” mentioned Yanelis Garcia, a 44-year-old mom of three who saved cash from elevating pigs in her yard to slowly construct a affluent six-room bed-and-breakfast and taxi enterprise within the central metropolis of Santa Clara. “I’ve at all times preferred having my very own enterprise to have the ability to present for my household. It has been actually good.”

Cubans fill hundreds of flights a yr to Miami, Panama and Cancun, the place they cram duffel luggage with gymnasium socks and Xboxes for the colourful non-public sector and rising center class. However final August, the Cuban authorities froze new licenses for personal bed-and-breakfasts, eating places and different fashionable companies, leaving many Cubans questioning how their authorities envisions a path to prosperity.

“We have seen mandatory reforms and I feel that sooner or later there should be extra,” mentioned Norma Chiang, a 77-year-old state accountant and auditor. “Self-employment must be broadened, little issues like bakeries or meals stands that may be within the fingers of people and never the state.”

Regardless of the picture of Raul Castro as an omnipotent army strongman, many Cubans say back-and-forth strikes and the general gradual tempo of reform have proven the issue of modernizing a Soviet-era forms managed by a whole lot of hundreds of civil servants who could be threatened by a transition right into a market financial system, a problem Castro’s successor may even face.

“Nobody dares to disobey Raul to his face. They quietly do not get issues performed and seek for methods to cowl their backs so nobody can accuse them of not getting issues performed,” Padron mentioned.

Cuba’s subsequent president additionally should discover a technique to make its financial system develop whereas sustaining social stability and satisfying the tens of millions of Cubans who depend upon the state and a shrinking checklist of sponsored necessities offered in Cuban pesos for his or her survival. Whereas Cuba sees Russia as one in all its closest allies, Cuba’s leaders are determined to forestall the kind of shock transition to capitalism that marked the tip of the Soviet Union.

“I am unable to eat, costume myself and dwell on $20 a month,” mentioned Adela Arpajon, a 54-year-old accountant for the Communist Occasion. “I both eat or purchase garments. It is laborious, however that is the best way it’s.”

Wariness of disruption is exacerbated by Cuba’s growing financial dependence on the Cuban emigres and exiles as soon as seen by the Communist authorities as a risk to its survival.

As a part of his broader immigration reforms, Raul Castro modified Cuba’s relationship with its diaspora by permitting Cubans to take care of their rights to personal property and obtain social advantages so long as they return as soon as each two years. That change fueled the expansion of a brand new class of Cubans who earn cash abroad however make investments at residence and are chargeable for a whole lot of tens of millions, if not billions, of {dollars} in small-scale funding on the island lately.

Greater than 20,000 Cuban emigres have “repatriated” and regained their property rights for the reason that emigration reforms, in line with Cuban figures. Nonetheless, the movement of emigres again to Cuba is swamped by the outward flood of Cubans unleashed by Castro’s elimination of the hated exit allow often called the “white card.” In line with U.S. Homeland Safety statistics, america admitted 463,502 Cubans between 2006 and 2016, with tens of hundreds extra heading to nations reminiscent of Spain and Ecuador.

“I do not suppose individuals have realized how momentous that’s by way of for the primary time having round migration,” mentioned Lisandro Perez, an skilled on the Cuban diaspora at New York’s John Jay Faculty of Felony Justice. “They take again issues, they finance non-public eating places. It is a completely totally different ballgame.”

Castro’s successor should handle the fragile relationship with Cuba’s affluent exiles at a time when relations with the U.S. have dropped from an unprecedented excessive below President Barack Obama to a deep low below President Donald Trump.

For Reinaldo Taladrid, a well-liked commentator on state tv, tensions with the U.S. will function a brake on any reforms sought by Raul Castro’s successor.

“Whereas there is a sense of a state of siege, there’s an intuition of self-preservation that does not have something to do with politics. It is the human intuition for self-preservation. You’ve gotten the world’s strongest state, probably the most {powerful} authorities within the historical past of humanity that has regime change in Cuba as its official coverage,” Taladrid mentioned. “Whereas that is true this little, poor nation’s authorities could have a siege mentality, and it is logical to have it.”

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Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein