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Born in Cuba, Chemistry Professor Reflects on Castro's Resignation

On Tuesday, longtime Cuban dictator Fidel Castro let his country know he would no longer hold a top position in government. The ill and aging leader’s stepping down is the end of an era for the Latin American country, and he has handed the reigns over to his brother, Raul Castro. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore spoke with Jorge Padron, a retired Chemistry professor from Drury University who once called Cuba home.

“The way I see it, there won’t be many changes,” Padron said.

“He’s 84. He’s been very ill. His brother is nearly 80. So there’s not much difference," he said.

Padron did say, though, it looks like Castro’s brother, Raul, is bringing in new ideas when it comes to allowing parts of the country to privatize.

“They are now giving permits for private businesses—small private businesses. So he has different ideas than his brother,” he said.

Padron compared Fidel Castro to the dictator of North Korea Kim Jong-Il, known for his extremely tight control over the communist country.

And he knows firsthand what effect Castro's policies had on the people of Cuba.

His father had a private pharmaceutical house at the time Fidel Castro came to power in 1960; the government began taking over what were once private businessses.

“Within a year, they took away the business. And of course, all the employees were fired,” he says.

His family decided to leave Cuba, along with an exodus of other upper-class business owners who had experienced a similar fate.

“They arrived in Miami with five dollars per person. They lost everything,” he said.

The Padron family eventually landed in Washington , D.C. His dad began working as a scientist for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Jorge Padron went on to become a professor of chemistry, and has been an American citizen for 50 years.

He says he hopes Cuba will begin to open up in the way that China has done economically over the past 15 years.

“Politically, they’re very rigid, very strict; they don’t allow any diversion from the Communist Party. But economically, they allow capitalism,” Padron said.

Before Castro came to power, Padron says, Cuba was one of the most developed countries in Latin America. He recalls doctors in Ecuador telling him how they did their residencies in Cuba, indicating that its status was impressive.

“[Fidel Castro] took Cuba from a—according to Latin American standards—a very well developed country, to poor poverty. And that’s what Raul [Castro], I think, finally realized: that it has been a failure. Cuba is a poor, poor country, any way you look at it,” he said.