Raul Castro re-elected Cuba's president; picks 'young' new heir

Raul Castro re-elected Cuba's president; picks 'young' new heir
Havana, Cuba:  Raul Castro was re-elected as Cuba's president on Sunday, officially to his last five-year term, with a new regime number two -- Council of State Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, official media said.

"The National Assembly of People's Power today approved, in this capital, Army General Raul Castro Ruz as president of the Council of State, and elected Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, as its first vice president," according to the AIN news agency.

Diaz-Canel, who turns 53 in April, is an electrical engineer by training, a former education minister and the president's de facto political heir seeking to project the Americas' only one-party Communist regime into the future.

Since March, Diaz-Canel has been one of the eight vice presidents on the Council of Ministers. He took the number two spot from Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 82, who relinquished the post but remains among Cuba's vice presidents.

Diaz-Canel, as political heir, cuts a starkly different profile from the revolutionary leadership, whose members are mostly in their 80s.

Indeed if he comes to lead Cuba, he would be the first leader of the regime whose entire life has been under the Castro regime which started in January 1959.

A former military man, Diaz-Canel also has been a university professor in his home province, Villa Clara. A careful speaker, he also has been a leader of the Communist Youth Union, and went on an international "mission" to Nicaragua during the first leftist Sandinista government.

He rose up the ranks, leading the party in Villa Clara in central Cuba, before being chosen to lead it in Holguin province in the east. Diaz-Canel was then bumped up to the Politburo in 2003.

In recent months, Diaz-Canel has become more prominent in official media. He already has stood in for Raul Castro at presidential inaugurations in other nations.

Raul Castro long has spoken of the need for a generational transition in the Cuban Communist Party. But it has taken years for someone from the post-revolution generation to be put on deck to lead the nation.

If Raul Castro, who will be 82 in June, serves out his term through 2018, barring changes Diaz-Canel would succeed him.

But the fate and future of the Cuban regime also depends on the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Cuba's main economic supporter and political ally, who is recovering from cancer surgery.

There was more new blood among the five vice presidents on the Council of State, in the person of Mercedes Lopez Acea, 48, the former leader of the Communist Party's Havana provincial assembly.

Raul Castro became Cuba's interim president when his brother, revolutionary icon Fidel, took ill in 2006. He formally became president in 2008.

The National Assembly, whose members ran for office in October unopposed, also chose Esteban Lazo, 68, as their new speaker. Seen as an ideological hardliner, he is also the regime's most prominent Afro-Cuban leader.

"The choice of Lazo to lead the National Assembly confirms that the approach to any ideological change is a really cautious one. Lazo has been all about ideological orthodoxy," said professor Arturo Lopez-Levy, at the University of Denver in the US state of Colorado.

On Friday Raul Castro surprised some by joking publicly about resigning.

"I am going to resign. I am about to turn 82. I have the right to retire. Don't you believe me?" Castro said, smiling to reporters after accompanying Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to the old Soviet cemetery near Havana.

Cuba has endured a full US trade embargo since 1962. In addition to depending on Venezuelan aid it so far has failed to discover oil in its waters as experts say lies beneath the seabed off its coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

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