Castro sets 2018 for succession

Confirming previous hints of retirement, Raúl Castro, after being re-elected by the parliament for his second five-year term, told the National Assembly he will step down in 2018.

“This will be my last term,” Castro, 81, told the deputies.

Cuba’s official media highlighted Castro’s re-election and did not talk about succession. Even so, hinting at a possible successor, Castro appointed Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez as First Vice President of the Council of Ministers, the No. 2 position in the hierarchy. This is the first time an official born after the revolution occupies the No. 2 spot in the hierarchy.

Díaz-Canel is a 52-year old electrical engineer from Santa Clara who taught for 30 years at the University of Villa Clara and rose through provincial Party ranks to become minister of higher education in 2009.

“He’s not a parvenu or improvised,” Castro said about Díaz-Canel, praising him as a man of “firm principles.”

Two of Díaz-Canel’s predecessors and veterans of the Revolution continue to occupy vice presidency posts. The previous first vice president, José Ramón Machado Ventura, 82, became one of five vice presidents again, and former First Vice President Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, 80, continues as a vice president. The other vice presidents are Chief Comptroller Gladys Bejerano, 66; Mercedes López Acea, 47, First Party Secretary in Havana; and union leader Salvador Valdés Mesa, 64.

Raúl came to power, first provisionally, in 2006 when his older brother Fidel fell ill. When the younger Castro was formally elected in 2008, he said he considered himself a transitional leader. He dedicated his first five years in power to pragmatic, gradual, trial-and-error reforms.

To be sure, Díaz-Canel’s rise to the top is not assured. There have been previous cases of meteoric rises and crashes by young officials in the Cuban nomenklatura.

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