Raul Castro announces end to family’s 54 year rule

Fidel Castro, left, speaks to his younger brother Raul, who has announced he will relinquish the presidency in 2018.  Picture: AP
Fidel Castro, left, speaks to his younger brother Raul, who has announced he will relinquish the presidency in 2018. Picture: AP
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It HAS been more than 54 years since someone not named “Castro” led Cuba – but now the islanders have finally been given a date for when the sun will set on the rule of brothers Fidel and Raul: 2018.

In accepting a new presidential term on Sunday, 81-year-old Raul Castro announced that it would be his last. And for the first time, he named a rising young star, Miguel Diaz-Canel, to be his top lieutenant and possible successor.

“This will be my last term,” Mr Castro said, his voice firm.

He also said he hoped to establish two-term limits and age caps for political offices, including the presidency, though he did not specify what age.

As the new first vice-president of the ruling Council of State, Mr Diaz-Canel, 52, is now a heartbeat from the presidency and has risen higher than any other Cuban official who did not directly participate in the 1959 revolution.

In his speech, Mr Castro hinted at other changes to the constitution, some so dramatic they will have to be ratified by the Cuban people in a referendum. Still, he scotched any idea that the country would abandon socialism. “I was not chosen to be president to restore capitalism to Cuba,” he said. “I was elected to defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism, not destroy it.”

Cuba is at a moment of “historic transcendence”, Mr Castro told legislators in speaking of his decision to name Mr Diaz-Canel to the No 2 job, replacing 81-year-old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, who fought with the Castros in the Sierra Maestra.

Mr Castro praised Mr Machado Ventura and another aging revolutionary for offering to leave their positions so younger leaders could move up.

Their selflessness was a “concrete demonstration of their genuine revolutionary fibre”.

On the streets of Havana, where people often express a jaded view of all things political, there was genuine excitement.

“This is the start of a new era,” said Roberto Delgado, 68. “It will undoubtedly be a complicated and difficult process, but something important happened today.”

Since taking over from Fidel in 2006, Raul Castro has instituted a slate of important economic and social changes, expanding private enterprise, legalising a property market and relaxing travel restrictions.

However, the country remains ruled by the Communist Party and any opposition to it lacks legal recognition.

Fidel Castro is 86 and retired, and has appeared increasingly frail in recent months. He made a surprise appearance at Sunday’s gathering, receiving a thunderous ovation.

Mr Diaz-Canel, a former education minister, has been featured on state TV news often in recent weeks, in an apparent attempt to raise his profile.