Cuba is preparing for elections that would see the end of the rule of the Castro family. March 11 was the original date set for electing regional and national legislators, but the National Assembly had extended its term for two months and now the elections are likely to be held in April. Originally Raul Castro would have ended his second term in office in February 2018.

The delay, according to the National Assembly, was the result of devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma in September 2017 that had hampered the start of the political cycle in which voters and electoral commissions pick delegates of municipal, provincial and national assemblies who then select a Council of State and President.

Raul Castro’s designated successor is First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, 57, who was born the year after the revolution but has argued for the need to defend its achievements and provide continuity.

More than eight million Cubans will be eligible to vote for the members of their provincial assemblies and the National Assembly. Once the nearly 600 member National Assembly convenes in April, it will elect a new president of the State Council, the post Raul Castro currently occupies. If all the nominees are ratified, this will rank Cuba as the second greatest country on earth for female participation in parliament.

Of the 605 candidates to the National Assembly of the Popular Power of Cuba, 53.2 percent are women.If all the nominees in the next elections are ratified by the people, only Rwanda with 61.3 percent would surpass Cuba in terms of female presence in a Legislative. The President of the National Candidacy Commission, Gisela Duarte, had said that the number of young people between 18 and 35 years old would also grow, reaching 13.2 percent of the candidates for the unicameral Parliament.

Duarte also told the media that 86 percent of the nominees have attained higher education, while 40.6 percent are black and mixed race. 47.4 percent of the candidates are delegates from constituencies, elected in neighbourhood assemblies so that the 168 municipalities of the country would have representation with at least two deputies and one of them of municipal descent.

The political transition is occurring at a difficult time for Cuba. Hurricane Irma caused damage worth the equivalent of 13.2 billion pesos and the cash crunch, partly a result of declining aid from Venezuela, has left Cuba behind on payments to its foreign providers. Relations with the United States of America are increasingly tense with President Donald Trump spending little time in undoing the actions of his predecessor Barack Obama.

The partial reversal of the US-Cuban détente has been accompanied by a tightening of the decades old US embargo. But despite the challenges Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas has said that the economy had recovered from the 2016 recession with a growth rate of 1.6 percent resulting from an expansion in the tourism, transport and communications, agriculture and construction sectors. He forecast that in the coming year the economy would grow at 2 percent.

The transition is unlikely to radically transform Cuba as, if Miguel Diaz-Canel does become the next President he would still need to establish himself as a legitimate successor to the earlier generation dominated by the Castros. Already on the economic front State-run media had cited Marino Murillo, Chief Of The Reform Commission, as saying that income distribution at cooperatives would be more closely regulated and business licenses would be limited to one per person. Analysts said this represented a continued slowing down and not an undoing.

More importantly, the hope that the opening to Cuba that Barack Obama had ushered in, would benefit the country lies shattered. Under President Barack Obama, the two nations opened embassies, expanded travel choices, restored commercial flights and discussed agreements on the environment, law enforcement, the particular postal service, and communications. Obama was the first U. S. leader in over five decades to see Cuba.

Since the re-establishment of diplomatic relations in 2015, Cuba and the U.S. had been working together in areas including law-enforcement cooperation against drug-trafficking and human smuggling. Despite Trump’s hostility Cuban and US officials had concluded a week of negotiations upon law-enforcement cooperation in Washington, with a meeting on the fight against illicit medication trafficking.

Relations with the United States remain a critical concern. President Donald Trump had made no bones about his hostility towards Cuba during his campaign and had, in his first year, taken steps not only to undo his predecessor’s actions but to intensify efforts to undermine the country and destabilise the Cuban government. In his first State of the Union Address, the American President had lumped Cuba with Venezuela, Iran and North Korea as rogue nations that the United States must and will continue to confront. As part of this campaign on January 23, the US announced the creation of a new Internet Task Force, aimed at subverting Cuba's internal order.

The force would be composed of U.S. government and non-governmental representatives to promote the free and unregulated flow of information in Cuba. The task force will examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access and independent media in Cuba. The new initiative by the State Department flowed from the June 16, 2017 National Security Presidential Memorandum "Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba."

In the past phrases like promoting "freedom of speech" and "expanding access to the internet in Cuba" have been used by Washington as a pretext for schemes to destabilize the country using new technologies. According to information available from open sources the following were some of the programmes reportedly used by the United States against Cuba:-

- ZunZuneo: Financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with the objective of launching a messaging system that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans using "non-controversial" content, like sports news, music, weather reports, and announcements. When they had won over a following, the plan was to begin sending political messages inciting Cubans to make appeals on the network for massive demonstrations to destabilize the country.

- Piramideo: Similar to ZunZuneo, this program was undertaken by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), responsible for the infamous Radio and TV Martí. The plan was to create a network of "friends" that would offer the possibility of sending a massive message to members of a "pyramid" at the cost of a single SMS. The objective was to prepare a platform for subversion.

- Conmotion: A tool to create independent create wireless networks, developed by the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute (OTI), with headquarters in Washington, originally intended for military use. Although no information on its functioning in Cuba is known, government sources told the New York Times that millions of dollars had been dedicated to an effort toward that end.

- Operation Surf: this program involved the smuggling of equipment and software into the country to install illegal antennas to access the internet.

On the diplomatic front the State Department pulled non-emergency personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Havana as a safety measure following a series of health attacks the department believes targeted Americans. The U.S. government ordered the departure of 15 officials from Cuba's embassy in Washington, D.C., in response to what the State Department said was "Cuba's failure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomats."

President Trump said that the Cuban Government was responsible for the “sonic attacks” that had affected the Americans. The symptoms of the so called “sonic attacks”, which no investigation has been able to conclude actually occurred, included “hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping”.

Though the Cuban government had denied responsibility US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested recently that Cuba might have stopped the " targeted episodes. " He said Cuba had sophisticated security equipment and probably knew who was carrying out the attacks and could stop them. A recent delegation of six US lawmakers who visited Cuba had however urged the US State Department to restore embassy staff pulled from the country last year.

The visit by the six Democratic members of the Senate and House of Representatives comes as the State Department decides whether to send its personnel back to the island. A decision is expected by March 4.

Travel to Cuba by American citizens is harder now as the Trump administration had issued new regulations governing relations with the island nation. While the rules are largely a formalization of what Donald Trump had promised they include a long list of entities that are now off-limits to US travelers . The U.S. administration's "Cuba Restricted List" names 180 entities with links to the Cuban government, including 83 hotels, that are now prohibited.

In addition, the regulations severely restrict the individual people-to-people travel to Cuba that has been immensely popular since approved by the Obama administration. Some with ties to the US travel industry believe the regulations would impact on business engagements in general. Cubans in the personal sector, especially those with small businesses, say they are struggling to remain open with the decline in American tourists.

Countries in Africa have been particularly vocal in condemning the American actions. The African Union has demanded an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba for over 56 years and characterised it as illegal and unjustified. The condemnation of the hostile US policy "that affects the Cuban government and people", was discussed during the 30th Summit of Heads of State and Governments of the African Union held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2018.

The representatives of the 55 member States of the regional block adopted a "Resolution on the lifting of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the US towards Cuba". The text, based on the Resolution approved by the UN General Assembly, recognises the existence of the blockade and condemns the setback in bilateral relations between Havana and Washington. The document concludes with the reaffirmation of the solidarity of the member states of the African Union with Cuba.

President Trump’s actions have not surprised Cubans who have become accustomed to ongoing aggressive postures by America—except for the Barack Obama interlude. But real concerns like the economy, fending off the American onslaught, maintaining the core sectors like health and education, will most likely be on the top of the agenda for the new President of Cuba.