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Raul Castro becomes Cuba's leader

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/cuba_leadership;_ylt=AoGTjwyEGc5_tAGlkYhn3Kis0NUE Raul Castro becomes Cuba s leader By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer 3 minutes
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 24, 2008
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/cuba_leadership;_ylt=AoGTjwyEGc5_tAGlkYhn3Kis0NUE

      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
      system unshaken.

      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
      1950s.

      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
      the state."

      "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
      dictator light."

      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
      elections."

      Her statement, issued shortly before parliament met,
      called the developments a "significant moment in
      Cuba's history."

      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
      government.

      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
      of State.

      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
      forefront."

      ____

      Associated Press Writer Anne-Marie Garcia contributed
      to this report from Santiago, Cuba.
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