Raul Castro has been reelected President of Cuba and has said he will step down after his term ends in 2018. Miguel Diaz-Canel, Castro's de-facto heir, has been elected first vice president.
"The National Assembly of People's Power today approved, in this capital, Army General Raul Castro Ruz as president of the Council of State, and elected Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, as its first vice president," the AIN news agency reported Sunday from Havana.
Shortly after his reelection, the 81-year-old Castro told the opening session of Cuba's new parliament he would step down when his term expires in five years.
"This will be my last term," he said.
Castro added that he hopes to impose two-term limits and age restrictions for political offices including the presidency – an unexpected announcement for a country led by Castro or his older brother Fidel, 86, since the 1959 revolution.
Diaz-Canel becomes VP
The ascension of Diaz-Canel, 52, to the vice presidency makes him the most visible possible successor to Castro and sets the stage for the country to begin transferring power to a younger generation.
Cuba is at a moment of "historic transcendence," Castro told parliament, speaking of his decision to name Diaz-Canal as his deputy. "It represents a definitive step in the configuration of the future leadership of the nation through the gradual transfer … of key roles to new generations."
An electrical engineer by trade and a former education minister, Diaz-Canel has been one of eight vice presidents on the Council of Ministers. He took the number two spot after 82-year-old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura stepped down. Diaz-Canel's appointment is the first time a Cuban official who did not directly participate in the 1959 revolution has assumed such a role.
Raul Castro officially replaced the ailing Fidel, who attended Sunday's meeting in a rare public appearance, as president in 2008. He will be 86 when he finishes his final stint in office in 2018, and should he not be able to complete his term, Diaz-Canel would take his place.
The National Assembly, whose 612 members ran for office unopposed in October, also chose Esteban Lazo as their new speaker. Named to the Council of State were Jose Ramon Machado Ventur, Castro's previous first vice president, comptroller general Gladys Bejerano, second Vice President Ramior Valdes, Havana Communist Party secretary Latara Mercedes Lopez Acea, and Salvador Valdes Mesa, head of Cuba's labor union.
Most of the legislative power of the National Assembly, which meets just a few weeks a year, is delegated to the 31-member Council of State, which also serves as the nation's executive through the Council of Ministers it appoints.
dr/lw (Reuters, AP, AFP)