(DESPARDES/PKONWEB) — A new chapter is beginning in Cuba, with the country’s National Assembly meeting to elect a new president.
Raul Castro, 86, is stepping down from his position as head of state after serving two five-year terms.
It’s the end of a 59-year reign by the Castro brothers as well as for a whole generation of revolutionaries.
Cubans will soon be set to welcome their first non-Castro president in more than 40 years.
The new president is scheduled to be selected during a two-day National Assembly meeting that begins Wednesday, with results announced Thursday — and it’s likely to be a Cuban official who wasn’t even born yet when Fidel Castro led his revolution down from the mountains to take over the government in 1959.
Cuba observers say Miguel Díaz-Canel is widely expected to become the new president.
Will Cuba change significantly once a non-Castro president is elected?
The video takes a look back at the past six decades on the Communist-run island nation.
Few people expect much to change in the only Communist-run country in the Western hemisphere, at least not right away.
‘Fidel is Cuba,'” said Vicki Huddleston, the former head of the US diplomatic mission in Havana. “You won’t be seeing signs that say ‘Raul is Cuba.’ He was a placeholder. The next head of Cuba will be a placeholder. There is no charismatic leader like Fidel was.”
For years, many Cubans speculated that Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela — a member of the National Assembly — or his son, Alejandro — a colonel in Cuban counterintelligence who represented the island in secret talks with the US — would be the next Castros to take power.
But neither is now in the running, Cuban government officials say.
Instead, Cuba’s first vice president is the apparent successor to Raul Castro: a 57-year old technocrat named Miguel Díaz-Canel, who has promised to hew closely to the course set by the Castro brothers.
“I believe in continuity,” Díaz-Canel told reporters recently when asked about his vision for Cuba’s future. “I think there always will be continuity.”
“Continuity” most likely means continued restrictions on the private sector for Cubans, tight controls on foreign investment and no openings to the single-party political system.
“Cuba will keep being Cuba, no one can change it,” Elián González, the boy found on an inner tube off the Florida coast in 1993, told CNN. González, then 5 years old, was placed with relatives in Miami but returned to Cuba with his father following a court battle. He was seen frequently with Fidel Castro, whom he described as being like a father to him.
Now González, 24, has emerged as one of the most effective advocates for the revolution and many Cubans believe he will one day have a leadership role.
“Cuba won’t change if another administration comes, if another president comes,” he said.
Cuban leaders say they are “perfecting” their revolution while resisting external pressures to open the economy and political system.
Supporters of the Cuban government say their revolution will survive the departure of the Castros.
“Many people say ‘when the Castros’ mandate ends’ but I don’t believe the ideology will end; not what they have taught us, nor the ideas of the Castros,” Elián González told CNN. “Cuba is more than its government.”
Even though Raul Castro plans to move to Santiago de Cuba, the city where his brother Fidel was buried, he is still expected to exercise a large measure of control over the Cuban government and have the final say on important decisions.
Castro will remain first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, a member of the National Assembly and, even if he is no longer president, the most powerful public figure on the island.
According to a BBC report, any changes are likely to be gradual and slow-paced. Having said that, Raúl Castro did bring in reforms after he took over as president, most strikingly the thaw in relations with the US which seemed unthinkable under his brother Fidel.
The new leader will have to consider how to overcome the problems caused by the economic collapse of Cuba’s ally, Venezuela, and what kind of relationship the Caribbean island wants with the US under Donald Trump.
Cuba’s Communist government has survived more than 50 years of US sanctions intended to topple veteran leader Fidel Castro.
But what most Cubans will judge the new non-Castro leader on is whether their day-to-day lives improve– notwithstanding the country’s reputable health and education systems.