Dear Raul Castro,

Cuba is about to see a changing of the guard. You've lived in Fidel's shadow your entire life. Don't go out as his shadow. Go out as someone who made a difference, someone those old Cubans playing dominos in South Florida can remember with a smile.

We'd love for you to hold free and fair elections, but you aren't likely to do that. So here's some advice:

Be your own man.

You've already loosened things up. Letting folk singers, like Sylvio Rodriguez, have their say was a plus. And allowing people to complain in more than a whisper has been welcome relief.

But chin music is cheap. You've got to deliver.

Here are some ideas.

First, you don't need to scuttle everything. Having young physicians sign a contract saying they will practice for a number of years in rural areas before pursuing their own agendas has brought health care to everybody. You don't have to rethink that one. It can also work in an open society.

And don't lose the focus on literacy. Seeing salty old fishermen with paperback copies of Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" in their pockets is a delight.

You do need to get rid of the curfews and all that nasty political prisoner stuff. And don't be afraid to allow businesses to have a little neon sign here and there. Cuba doesn't need to be a monastery. Let your inner-Cuban out.

Still, it would be nice if you didn't turn Cuba back into a playground for moneyed Americans. Americans have plenty of playgrounds. Keep your eye on the gambling industry. If you let it back in, don't let it drive the economy. Tourism is a better way to go — more family friendly and less tawdry. Other vices follow gaming. Stress Cuba's beauty and heritage, downplay licentiousness.

It is nice seeing all those blue-collar workers being allowed into the hoity-toity hangouts of the rich and famous. Let them stay. A little common decency and democracy go a long way — not only in the voting booth but in the way you treat people.

Finally, don't lionize Fidel. He had his day. Under Fidel, Cuba never really got to be Cuba. It felt muffled and unnatural.

The future is bright and sunny, filled with conga drums, bright attire and dancing.

It's how older Americans remember the place.

It's what you are.

Go for it.