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.

Castro is slated to remain in control of the two main sources of power on the island, the Communist Party and the armed forces, until 2021. But this interim period could give Díaz-Canel an opening to grow comfortable in the presidency and find more room to maneuver as Castro approaches 90.

The bottom line: Cuba is beset by major challenges, including crumbling infrastructure, low productivity and a two-currency system. If the pragmatic new president can improve the lives of Cubans, he might garner the legitimacy needed to institute meaningful reforms, such as allowing private enterprise beyond the restaurant and tourist industries, lowering the tax burden on the fledgling private sector and letting market considerations drive a single currency.

Gustavo Flores-Macías is an associate professor of government at Cornell University.

Go deeper

Biden campaign using Instagram to mobilize celebrity supporters

Collins appears on the Build live interview series in November 2019. Photo: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

The Biden campaign is launching a new initiative today that will draft Hollywood celebrities for Instagram Live chats with campaign officials and other Biden supporters.

Why it matters: The campaign, called #TeamJoeTalks, is an attempt to open up a new front on social media, drawing on celebrities’ Instagram followers to help find and motivate voters while large parts of the country remain locked down.

Updated 15 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5 a.m. ET: 11,458,291 — Total deaths: 534,460 — Total recoveries — 6,184,379Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5 a.m. ET: 2,888,729 — Total deaths: 129,947 — Total recoveries: 906,763 — Total tested: 35,512,916Map.
  3. States: Photos of America's pandemic July 4 ICU beds in Arizona hot spot near capacity — Houston mayor warns about hospitals
  4. Public health: U.S. infections hit record highs for 3 straight days.
  5. Politics: Former Trump official Tom Bossert says face masks “are not enough”
  6. World: Mexican leaders call for tighter border control.
Column / Harder Line

Coronavirus topples 2020 energy and climate predictions

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In early January, I laid out 10 energy and climate change issues to watch this year. Spoiler alert: A pandemic was not on that list.

The big picture: The coronavirus has left no part of our world untouched, energy and climate change included. Let’s check in on my 2020 predictions at the halfway mark of this tumultuous year.