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Inside Cuba: Market Economy Takes Hold in Socialist State
CNBC.com | March 26, 2012 | 11:56 AM EDT

HAVANA — Cuba is a surrealist's dream: mile after mile of gorgeous, yet dilapidated architecture; streets dominated by automobiles from the 1950s, filled with people on cell (not smart) phones; only 90 miles from the United States and yet a place where people live without the Internet.

On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba , journalists from all over the world are descending en masse on this Communist island for the first time in a decade. The last event where so many reporters (American in particular) were allowed in at the same time would have been former President Jimmy Carter's visit in 2002.

Thus the papal visit is providing a rare opportunity to see first hand the economic state of one of the last bastions of socialism, and whether or not a few new market-oriented laws are the start of meaningful change.

Additionally, journalists and Cubans themselves want to know if long-time, now-retired dictator Fidel Castro will appear in public. Old age and illness forced Castro to hand over power to his brother Raul in 2006. But his persona is still ever-present here, even as more and more Cubans talk about him in the past tense.

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