Raúl Castro chosen as new President of Cuba

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Raúl Castro.
Image: Valter Campanato.

Today, the National Assembly of People's Power, Cuba's legislative parliament, announced that it had unanimously chosen Raúl Castro, 76, as the new President of Cuba. He will serve for 5 years.

The National Assembly, composed of 614 members previously elected in a January 20, 2008 general election, also chose the new First Vice-President, José Ramón Machado Ventura, along with 29 other members of the Council of State, Cuba's executive power. The Assembly has chosen Cuba's Council of State ever since the Socialist Cuban Constitution was approved by 97.7% of voters in a referendum in 1976.

This decision comes after Fidel Castro, who ruled as President ever since rising to power in 1959 with the Cuban Revolution, wrote a letter last Tuesday saying that he would not "aspire to or accept... the positions of President of Council of State and Commander in Chief" in today's election for a new President, who also becomes the leader of the Council of State and the Commander in Chief of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces. According to Voice of America, he will still remain First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, the only official party in the Communist state.

While Cuban exiles in Miami, who have escaped Cuba and what they consider a dictatorship in search of a better life in the United States, celebrated Fidel's retirement as leader of the country, the Cuban streets of Havana, the country's capital, have remained calm and all has continued as normal.

Raúl, who is also Fidel's brother, has been acting president of Cuba since July 31, 2006, when Fidel transferred his presidential power to him after undergoing an emergency intestinal surgery for what is believed to be diverticulitis and was widely expected to be elected President.

The United States has said the change from one Castro to another would not bring about significant change in Cuba, calling it a "transfer of authority and power from dictator to dictator light."

Before the Assembly meeting, BBC correspondents interviewed Cubans at the Havana Book Fair about what they think the most important task should be for the country's next leader. While many coincided that economical and educational reforms were badly needed, they also stated that Cuba "must keep the same rhythm with the revolution that has already given so much to the people."

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