Raul Castro becomes Cuba's leader
Raul Castro becomes Cuba's leader
By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer 3 minutes ago
HAVANA - Cuba's parliament named Raul Castro president
on Sunday, ending nearly 50 years of rule by his
brother Fidel but leaving the island's communist
The succession was not likely to bring a major shift
in the communist government policies that have put it
at odds with the United States. But many Cubans were
hoping it would open the door to modest economic
reforms that might improve their daily lives.
In another sign that major change was not afoot, Raul
Castro, 76, proposed he would consult with the ailing,
81-year-old Fidel on all major decisions of state, and
parliament approved the proposal.
An old guard revolutionary leader Jose Ramon Machado
was named No. 2 the slot that Raul Castro had
previously held. The 77-year-old fought alongside the
Castro brothers in the Sierra Maestra during the late
In his first speech as president, Raul Castro
suggested that the Communist Party as a whole would
take over the role long held by Fidel Castro, who
formally remains its leader.
The new president said the nation's sole legal party
"is the directing and superior force of society and
"This conviction has particular importance when
because the founding and forging generation of the
revolution is disappearing," Raul Castro added.
Sunday's vote came five days after Fidel said he was
retiring, capping a career in which he frustrated
efforts by 10 U.S. presidents to oust him.
The U.S. has said the change from one Castro to
another would not be significant, calling it a
"transfer of authority and power from dictator to
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday Cubans
have a right "to choose their leaders in democratic
elections" and urged the government "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
Her statement, issued shortly before parliament met,
called the developments a "significant moment in
Cuba's parliament chose a new 31-member ruling body
known as the Council of State to lead the country. The
council's president serves as the head of state and
The vote ended Castro's 49 years as head of the
communist state in America's backyard. He retains his
post as a lawmaker and as head of the Communist Party.
But his power in government has eroded since July 31,
2006, when he announced he had undergone emergency
intestinal surgery and was provisionally ceding his
powers to Raul.
The younger Castro has headed Cuba's caretaker
government in the 19 months since then, and Fidel
Castro has not appeared in public.
In his final essay as president, Castro wrote that
preparations for the parliament meeting "left me
exhausted," and he said he did not regret his decision
to step down.
"I slept better than ever," he wrote in the commentary
published on Friday. "My conscience was clear and I
promised myself a vacation."
Cabinet secretary Carlos Lage, who many had expected
would move up into the first vice president slot,
maintained his spot as one of five other vice
presidents on the Council of State.
The other four vice presidents included Juan Almeida
Bosque, 80, a historic revolutionary leader; Interior
Minister Abeldardo Colomoe Ibarra, 68; Esteban Lazo
Hernandez, 63, a longtime Communist Party leader, and
Gen. Julio Casas Regueiro, 71, who was Raul Castro's
No. 2 at the Defense Ministry.
The council secretary remained Dr. Jose M. Miyar
Barrueco, 75, physician and historic revolutionary
leader, and longtime aide to Fidel Castro and Council
Fidel was among the 614 members of parliament elected
on Jan. 20 but his seat was empty at Sunday's
gathering. As the names of the new National Assembly's
members were read aloud, mention of the absent Castro
drew a standing ovation. Parliament gave another
standing ovation to Raul. The session closed with
shouts of "Viva Fidel!"
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez who is a close
friend of Castro, said the leadership change in Havana
was "occurring without any type of trauma."
"Transition in Cuba?" asked Chavez, whose country is
now a major economic ally of Cuba. "The transition
occurred 49 years ago, from that capitalism,
dominiated by imperialism, (under which Cuba) was a
colony, to a socialist Cuba. The transition will
continue marching forward, always with Fidel at the
Associated Press Writer Anne-Marie Garcia contributed
to this report from Santiago, Cuba.