Published: Thu, April 19, 2018
Money | By Michele Stevens

What is Cuba's future without a Castro?

What is Cuba's future without a Castro?

Cuba's Raul Castro was just hours away from retiring as president after parliament proposed Miguel Diaz-Canel as his replacement on Wednesday, a shift that will usher in the island's first non-Castro leader since the 1959 revolution.

Castro will remain the head of the ruling Communist Party until 2021 and is expected to continue to play a big role in policy decisions.

His recent public statements have focused on the need for continuity and fighting imperialism, a defiant and well-worn message as Cuba faces renewed tensions with the United States following President Donald Trump's election.

The Cuban General Assembly is expected to elect Diaz-Canel, an engineer and former education minister, in the coming days.

Castro, 86, is stepping down after 10 years in office.

So what will Cuba's future be under the new leader?

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Infrastructure is crumbling, foreign investment is lagging and any hope that Cubans may have pegged on a warmer relationship with the US has faltered as renewed tensions have emerged under President Donald Trump.

Raul Castro brought change, significantly thawing relations with the United States for the first time since the revolution took the island on a sharply leftward path.

Given Diaz-Canel that lacks the clout of Fidel and Raul Castro as historic leaders of the revolution, his ability to command authority will depend on the economy improving, analysts say.

While stressing he was acting to preserve and not dismantle socialism, Castro also introduced market reforms to one of the world's last Soviet-style centrally planned economies, permitting more small businesses and encouraging some foreign investment.

Wearing a dark suit in place of military fatigues, Castro sat near Diaz-Canel as an official read out the names of proposed leaders to the 604 legislators gathered at a convention center in a Havana suburb.

Castro also oversaw the historic thaw in relations with the USA and introduced new - though still limited - social freedoms, such as expanding internet access and allowing Cubans to travel and own cellphones.

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The legislators then cast secret ballots and were expected to nearly unanimously support the slate. The CCN proposed Salvador Valdes Mesa for the post of first vice-president.

A bright pupil, according to a former teacher, he taught at university before his political career took off and he became party chief in Villa Clara during Cuba's economic crisis of the 1990s following the collapse of its main ally, the Soviet Union. He is seen as less reform-minded than the new president.

"People in Cuba really haven't processed yet what it means to have a government without Raúl or Fidel leading it", Yassel Padron Kunakbaeva, a 27-year-old Marxist blogger, told The Associated Press this week.

"Any change in Cuba is reason to celebrate", said Cuban-American Christina Ibanez.

"That's never happened in Cuba", said Miguel Saavedra, who is protesting the election.

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