Raul Castro Says New 5-Year Term Will Be His Last
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. There's now a timeline to the end of the rule of the Castro family in Cuba. President Raul Castro said on TV he will step down after one final five-year term. And he named a replacement. Nick Miroff reports from Havana.
NICK MIROFF, BYLINE: Like the majority of his countrymen, 52-year-old Miguel Diaz Canel has never lived under a leader not named Castro. Now he is their designated successor, and the first in such a powerful position who did not fight alongside the Castros in the Cuban Revolution.
But Raul Castro said firmly that the time had come for a systematic handover of power.
PRESIDENT RAUL CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish)
MIROFF: This is a decision of historic transcendence that will define the future leadership of the nation through the gradual and orderly transfer of key roles to new generations, Castro said. He said the process would occur over the next five years. Diaz Canel did not give a speech of his own, but his Communist Party credentials are impeccable.
He was trained as an electrical engineer and served in Cuba's military, then rose through the ranks of the provincial party hierarchy until becoming Minister of Higher Education last year. Still, his quick ascent makes him a relatively unknown figure to ordinary Cubans, and it's only in recent months that he has appeared more frequently on state television, alongside Raul Castro and the island's other senior leaders.
Diaz Canel is not seen as the kind of young firebrand Fidel Castro used to favor, but Raul Castro praised him as a steady, dependable manager.
CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish)
MIROFF: He's not a newcomer nor an improviser, Castro said. He's worked his way up from below over a 30-year career. Fidel and Raul Castro have run Cuba since 1959, and the ailing 86-year-old Fidel made a rare public appearance for Sunday's parliament session, as if to give his silent approval.
He spent 49 years in power, formally stepping down in 2008, but Raul Castro insisted he would seek a constitutional change to impose term limits of two five-year periods for Cuba's top leadership positions, along with age caps for the roles.
CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish)
MIROFF: Our greatest satisfaction comes from the calm and confidence we feel giving the responsibility of building socialism to the new generations, Castro said. With his promotion, Diaz Canel is now the key figure in the Castros' attempt to carefully manage Cuba's political transition, from the strongman system led by a single figure to a more Chinese-style model with power residing in the Communist Party itself.
Multi-party democracy is not part of that picture. Also not likely to change any time soon is the U.S. embargo against Cuba. By law it can't be lifted with Fidel or Raul Castro still in power, so it too may endure for one more term, at least until 2018. For NPR News, I'm Nick Miroff in Havana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.