Raul Castro Succeeds Fidel as President of Cuba
From HAVANA, Cuba, Fidel Castro’s brother, Raúl, was named president of Cuba on Sunday, preserving a nearly half century socialist dynasty that brought free schools and health care to all Cubans as well as political repression.
The decision by Cuba’s national assembly formally ends the storied reign of Fidel Castro, 81, who has not appeared in public since stomach surgery 19 months ago and announced Tuesday that he would not seek the presidency. He steps down 49 years after leading a ragtag revolutionary army to victory, launching a career that spanned the Cuban missile crisis, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the fall of the Soviet Union, rhetorical battles with 10 U.S. presidents and a decades long U.S. trade embargo.
Fidel, who remains a member of the national assembly, did not appear Sunday when delegates selected his brother as president and named Jose Ramon Machado, 77, a hard line communist who fought alongside the Castros during the revolution, as first vice president. The choice of Machado surprised some here who expected a new generation of younger leaders to rise.
Ricardo Alarcon, one of Cuba’s most ardent critics of the U.S. trade embargo, was reelected as president of the assembly.
Clouds of cigar smoke scented the lobby in Havana’s convention center as nearly 600 assembly members filed into a hallway to vote in white-curtained booths. Raúl Castro, who entered the 28,000 square foot assembly chamber to sustained applause, waved briefly and smiled before taking a front row seat. During nearly five decades as defense minister, Raúl Castro, 76, was almost always seen in military uniforms. But Sunday, as he prepared to formally rise to Cuba’s highest civilian post, he opted for a blue suit and gray tie.
“In my opinion, Raúúl is the only option,” Luis Felipe Simon Cabreza, an assembly member from the eastern city of Holguin, said in an interview before voting. “He will continue the Cuban revolution. The future of our country, of our revolution, is assured.”
At 10 a.m. Sunday, María Esther Reus González, Cuba’s justice minister, began a roll call of assembly members by calling out “Fidel Castro Ruz.” Lawmakers, including army officers with medals on their chests and rural representatives in white guayaberas, rose in unison and clapped rhythmically.
Even though Fidel Castro has decided to step down as president, he remains the head of the communist party and many here still consider him the country’s true leader. Before the vote, Reus González held aloft a sealed envelope that she said contained Fidel Castro’s vote for president. She reminded assembly members that “El Comandante” had urged them to make a unanimous selection.
In a statement before the vote Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Cuba to “begin a process of peaceful, democratic change by releasing all political prisoners, respecting human rights, and creating a clear pathway towards free and fair elections.”
There was little doubt that Raúl Castro, his brother’s handpicked successor, would be named president by a national assembly that critics say is nothing more than a rubber stamp for them. Assembly members interviewed during breaks said they were free to vote for whomever they pleased, but some said Raúl Castro was the only candidate on the ballot.
“This is a historic day,” Ana Ramona Martin, 39, a first-time assembly member from Sancti Spiritus, said in an interview. “We are seeing evidence of our democracy today. I’m a simple campesina, and look what I am getting to do.”
Raúl Castro has long favored opening Cuba’s economy to more foreign investment, and some observers believe that he is likely to increase opportunities for Cubans to become independent businesspeople, rather than work for the state. Currently, between 100,000 and 150,000 have licenses to run private businesses, less than 3 percent of the working age population.
But the talk outside the legislative chamber Sunday was not about change, it was about preserving Fidel Castro’s policies.
“Our political project must stay the same,” said assembly member Nieves Lopez, who was 9 years old when Fidel took power at the head of a rebel army. “Our system is well defined, and it will not change.”
Thank you Washington Post Foreign and Manuel Roig~Franzia
Well, Baby Boomers…how long do you think we will have to wait to see if anythign is going to change or happen with the new regime?
~The Baby Boomer Queen~