Social Reforms In Cuba Only Extend So Far

In much of the world, May First is a day for parades - honoring workers. But in Hamburg, Germany today, anti-capitalist protesters clashed with police - and set fire to cars. In Turkey - police used water cannons on anti-government protesters. It was a lot calmer in Cuba, where May Day celebrates the communist government.

But there's a new leader - and for the first time in decades - a hint of change, as CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports.
The party atmosphere hasn't changed. Nor have the old slogans, but Cuba has.

Its revolutionary hero - now 81, and ill - is only present on the mayday banners. It's his younger brother Raul Castro who's here in person - as Cuba's new president.

On camera the May Day parade still looks impressive - but it's only a shadow of what it was in Fidel's time. It has less revolutionary hoopla - and only half as many marchers. It's one more sign that the page has turned here - and now Raul Castro is firmly in charge, and he's got a pressing agenda - giving Cubans better lives before they give up on him - and the socialist government.

For the elderly - Raul's raised pensions. For commuters - he's replaced decrepit public transport with shiny new Chinese buses. For the young - he's lifted a ban on cell phones, and DVD players. But the most profound changes are taking place in the countryside. Eduardo Diaz farms cows for meat and milk. Under Raul's new rules - Diaz will be paid more for both.

And get more land if he wants to expand.

"Do you see some people getting richer now?" Palmer asked.

"If I work harder, it's logical that I'm allowed to make more money, isn't it?" Diaz responded.

Well no - not under Fidel's brand of socialist agriculture it wasn't. But that inefficient system left Cuba importing 80% of its food. Now rising food prices have forced Raul to expand private enterprise on the land to boost production.

So far, Raul is only liberalizing the economy - not Cuba's political system. And that - says the US - is not enough to justify lifting the American embargo against Cuba - or establishing normal, friendly relations.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."