Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Raul Castro marks a year in power

By Michael Voss
BBC News, Havana

Raul Castro (Jan 2009)
Raul Castro allowed Cubans unrestricted access to mobile phones

Cuba's President Raul Castro has completed his first year in power since taking over from his brother, Fidel, who ran Cuba for nearly 50 years.

It has proved a smooth transition, despite many predicting communism would collapse without Fidel at the helm.

Raul Castro's programme of reforms has been hit by three hurricanes and the global economic crisis.

But there has been success in foreign policy, ending the island's international isolation.

It was never going to be easy replacing his famous brother, the only leader that Cuba had known for almost half a century.

But within weeks of formally taking over the presidency, on 24 February last year, Raul Castro won widespread support at home for a series of small but symbolic reforms.

These included allowing Cubans to buy mobile phones and stay in the same hotels as foreigners.

He also introduced bonus-related pay and launched agricultural reforms, providing state owned land to private farmers.

Economic crisis

But attempts to improve living standards by making the state-run economy more efficient were knocked off course by three devastating hurricanes and the world economic crisis.

Today the pace of reform has all but ground to a halt.

In terms of foreign policy though, Raul Castro has achieved considerable success in ending the island's international isolation.

He has reintegrated Cuba into Latin America, renewed the old cold war alliance with Russia, expanded ties with China and patched up relations with the European Union.

One of President Raul Castro's biggest challenges now is how to respond to any change in policy towards Cuba from the United States.

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