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End of Cuba's Castro era largely symbolic, yet holds promise of change

Former Cuban President Raul Castro raises the arm of newly elected Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel.
Former Cuban President Raúl Castro raises the arm of newly elected President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Photo: Adalberto Roque/Pool via Getty Images

Last week Raúl Castro fulfilled his promise to step down at the end of his second term as Cuba’s president, marking at least a nominal end to the Castro era. But many remain skeptical that political or economic change is really on the horizon: Castro's successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel, was chosen and carefully groomed precisely because he shares the vision of Cuba’s aging revolutionary guard.

Yes, but: Symbolic changes still matter, and Cubans will get used to everyday life without a Castro in office. The transfer of power presents an opportunity for the island to go down a different path — one with more room for both political contestation and private enterprise.