Cuba's President Raul Castro makes the final speech at the
closing session of the National Assembly of the Peoples
Power in Havana. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan
Cuban leader Raul Castro announced he would step down
from power after his second term as president ends in 2018, and
the new parliament named a 52-year-old rising star to become
his first vice president and most visible successor.
Castro, 81, made the announcement in a nationally broadcast
speech shortly after the Cuban National Assembly elected him
to a second five-year term in the opening session of the new
"This will be my last term," Castro said.
In a surprise move, the new parliament named as his first
vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel, a member of the political
bureau who rose through the party ranks in the provinces to
become the most visible possible successor to Castro.
Diaz-Canel would succeed Castro if he cannot serve his full
The new government will almost certainly be the last headed
up by the Castro brothers and their followers who have ruled
Cuba since they swept down from the mountains in the 1959
Raul Castro starts his second term immediately, leaving him
free to retire in 2018, aged 86.
Former president Fidel Castro joined the meeting, in a rare
public appearance. Since falling ill in 2006 and ceding the
presidency to his brother, the elder Castro, 86, has given up
official positions except as a deputy in the National
Governments, Cuba watchers and Cubans were keenly observing
to see if any new, and younger, faces might appear among the
Council of State members, in particular its first vice
president and five vice presidents.
Their hopes were partially fulfilled with Diaz-Canel's
ascension. He replaces former first vice president, Jose
Machado Ventura, 82, who will continue on as one of five vice
presidents. Commander of the Revolution Ramiro Valdes, 80,
and Gladys Bejerano, 66, the comptroller general were also
re-elected as vice presidents.
Two other newcomers, Mercedes López Acea, 48, first secretary
of the Havana communist party, and Salvador Valdes Mesa, 64,
head of the official labor federation, also earned vice
Former vice president Esteban Lazo, member of the political
bureau of the Communist Party, 68, left his post upon being
named parliament president on Sunday, replacing Ricardo
Alarcon, who served for 20 years.
Six of the Council's top seven members sit on the party's
political bureau which is also lead by Castro.
The National Assembly meets for just a few weeks each year
and delegates its legislative powers between sessions to the
31-member Council of State, which also functions as the
nation's executive through the Council of Ministers it
Eighty percent of the 612 deputies, who were elected in an
uncontested vote Feb. 3 and with an average age under 50,
were born after the Revolution.