Ilja Luciak, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science in Virginia Tech's College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, recently completed a multi-year study on "Gender Equality and Democratization in Central America and Cuba" for the European Commission.

His resultant books were based on interviews with high-ranking Cuban officials, including the President of Parliament and members of the Politburo.

“This is a glorious day for Fidel Castro,” said Luciak, regarding the Cuban leader’s announcement that he would not return as president or commander in chief. “He chose to step down on his own terms, ensuring orderly transition and confounding his enemies, who have been waiting to oust him for more that 50 years,” he continued. “An iconoclastic leader is officially stepping aside.”

Luciak says he believes that Castro’s brother, Raul, will be a transitional figure. “It is important to look at the system, not the personalities,” said Luciak. “Fidel Castro’s importance as a leader not withstanding, what this really means is that the Communist Party is still very much in control; and for that reason, the transfer of power between brothers has no systemic effects.”

With respect to the U.S. embargo, Luciak says that there are now opportunities for the United States to reverse some long-standing failed policies and allow free travel to Cuba and free commercial exchange. “Behind the scene,” said Luciak, “there have already been hundreds of millions of dollars in trade between the United States and Cuba. And everything is paid in cash. The Europeans are selling on credit, but the United States is getting paid in cash.”

While some in Washington think that there is a glimmer of hope for political prisoners to be released, Luciak, who has been to Cuba 10 times – most recently in 2003, says he does not believe that to be realistic. “Many dissidents arrested in the April 2003 crackdown have already been released,” said Luciak, “and according to credible information, the number of political prisoners is less than 300. There is no obvious link between a prisoner release and Castro’s announcement.”

Luciak’s research led to the publication of Gender and Democracy in Cuba, which was released last spring. Given his expertise in areas of gender studies, Luciak sees “an opening for women in Cuba to organize independently. If you have a weakening of the state, then there is an opportunity for women to organize to better represent their interests.”

Luciak received his J.D. from the University of Vienna, Austria, and his Ph.D from the University of Iowa. His research interests include democratic theory and gender politics, revolutionary movements, reproductive rights, and globalization. He teaches in the areas of Latin American politics, development theory and revolutionary change. He has worked as a consultant for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Women's Fund (UNIFEM), the Office of the Special Advisor to the Secretary General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women (OSAGI), and the Swedish International Development Authority (Sida).

Recent publications include Party and State in Cuba: Gender Equality in Political Decision-making and the book After the Revolution: Gender and Democracy in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, which uses a gender lens to examine the transformation of the revolutionary Left from armed guerrilla movements into political parties.

The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences embraces the arts, humanities, social and human sciences, and education. The College nurtures intellect and spirit, enlightens decision-making, inspires positive change, and improves the quality of life for people of all ages. It is home to the departments of Apparel, Housing & Resource Management; Communication; English; Foreign Languages & Literatures; History; Human Development; Interdisciplinary Studies; Music; Philosophy; Political Science; ROTC; Science and Technology in Society; Sociology; Theatre Arts; the School of the Arts; and the School of Education.

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