Cuba's national assembly is poised to officially designate Fidel Castro's successor as President of Cuba, after nearly 50 years under his rule. Fidel's younger brother Raoul is widely expected to get the nod.
Cuba's National Assembly will choose Fidel Castro's successor in a historic session Sunday ending his near half century in power, as his brother Raul appears likely to take over and steer the country down a new but still communist path.
In defiance of US-led calls for a democratic change, Fidel Castro ruled out any betrayal of the Cuban revolution, in the days leading up to the vote, which will trigger some political readjustments even as the transition bears the exiting leader's imprint.
"The end of one era is not the same thing as the beginning of an unsustainable system," he wrote in an editorial in official media on Friday.
"Cuba changed some time ago, and will continue on its dialectical path," stressed Castro, who remains the head of Cuba's Communist Party.
Saturday, Castro wrote in another editorial that he was eagerly awaiting the "transcendental decision" of the National Assembly, and took a potshot at the US-based Organization of American States, which does not allow Cuba to be a member due to its lack of democracy. Castro called it a "dumpster."
In an announcement on Tuesday that immediately became a milestone in Cuba's revolution, the frail, 81-year-old icon quashed speculation that he would retake the country's helm he ceded "temporarily" to Raul, now 76, on July 31, 2006, shortly after he underwent surgery.
Fidel Castro's decision paved the way for the recently elected Assembly to designate, as expected, Raul Castro to head the 31-member Council of State for the next five years and officially fill his brother's shoes as president.
But the communist legislature could choose to bring a younger generation to power, with Vice President Carlos Lage, 56, and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, 42, mentioned as possible heads of state.
The 614-member Assembly, which will meet at 1500 GMT Sunday, will also choose in a secret vote the country's first vice president, five other vice presidents, a party secretary and the other 23 members of the Council of State.
After years in Fidel's charismatic shadow as Cuba's number two and defense minister, Raul would face massive challenges if selected: dismantling a monolithic leadership, preparing the transition to a newer generation in power, reforming the economy and resolving domestic problems.
With half of Cuba's farmland idle; monthly salaries averaging the equivalent of 15 dollars, woefully inadequate even in a subsidized economy; national transport near collapse; shortfalls in housing and food stocks, and a shoddy bureaucracy, the outlook is not good.
If Raul takes Cuba's helm indefinitely, the number two spot of first vice president -- and first in line to take over the presidency in case of an emergency -- would almost certainly go to somebody outside the Castro family.
Former US Central Intelligence Agency analyst Brian Latell believes Raul is a "transition figure" who "will gain political strength to bring about the changes that were out of his reach" as provisional leader.
However, he cautioned, Raul, "like his brother, has no intention of opening up Cuba" in the political sense.
Most analysts predict Cuba's upcoming changes will be largely economic. Some believe Raul could copy China's approach of opening the economy while keeping political control in the hands of the Communist Party -- where Raul enjoys strong support.
In the 19 months since he took over as temporary leader, Raul Castro has made some timid adjustments in the economy but has promised bigger changes and has criticized the country's "excessive prohibitions."
However, Raul has made it clear that everything will take place "within socialism," and that the solutions to the country's problems will come "little by little."
The pace of economic change may have to pick up to meet Cubans rising expectations, and high level of frustration.
Meanwhile, Fidel will still loom large behind the political stage, especially through his press writings, which some observers hail as his new weapon of influence.
"Fidel is brandishing the right weapon for the right moment. ... He's learned to use communication as a cutting-edge, modern rifle," Celia Hart, whose parents fought alongside Fidel in his revolution, said in a published commentary.
Date created : 2008-02-24