Raul Castro To Step Down As Cuba's President

Saul Bowman
April 19, 2018

The government has nominated First Vice President Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel as the sole candidate for president.

First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel is expected to assume the position of Cuba's president as the handpicked successor after a party vote on Thursday.

Castro, who had served for decades as defence minister, became president in 2008 when Fidel Castro, his health failing, formally handed over power.

The rubber-stamp National Assembly voted on the proposal to promote Diaz-Canel, who is now first vice president.

For the first time in 60 years, someone other than Fidel or Raul Castro will govern Cuba. Ceremonies continued through lunchtime and broke until Thursday morning, when the new national leadership is expected to be officially announced on the anniversary of the defeat of USA -backed invaders at the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

State-run media and government-controlled Twitter accounts are promoting what is expected to be a historic handover of the presidency to the first non-Castro to lead the country in almost 60 years. He announced his departure several years ago and has long signalled that Diaz-Canel, a 57-year-old Communist Party stalwart, was his likely successor, carefully managing the transition to ensure political continuity.

"If the updating fails, Raul will be remembered as just one more reform communist who couldn't force the system to change despite his best efforts", Leogrande told Reuters.

"Most Cubans, especially the young, await an unambiguous, decisive acceleration of market-opening reforms", Feinberg said.

Cuba's economy remains smaller per capita than it was in 1985, when it had the support of Communist ally, the Soviet Union, according to one study.

"His closeness to the citizens was his trademark", said Ramon Silverio, 69, owner of Santa Clara's El Mejunje ("the mixture") cultural centre that holds lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) nights.

A culture lover, Diaz-Canel would bring his two children from his first marriage to its youth events, dancing there himself in the evenings. He was summoned to Havana in 2009 to be higher education minister and in 2013 Castro made him his right-hand man, praising him for his "solid ideological strength".

Diaz-Canel has stood in for Castro at major political events, received foreign dignitaries and travelled overseas on behalf of the government. "Diaz-Canel needs to work hard on the economy, because people need to live a little better". Relations with the United States are strained anew under President Donald Trump and Cuba has few allies in the region.

Given Diaz-Canel that lacks the clout of Fidel and Raul Castro as historic leaders of the revolution, his ability to command authority will depend on the economy improving, analysts say.

If elected, the new president will inherit a country in the throes of change and mired in financial troubles.

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