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Cuban lawmakers to name first new president in 49 years

By Agencies


Cuban lawmakers meet to name a new head of state for the first time in nearly a half-century on Sunday, just five days after an ailing, 81-year-old Fidel Castro said he would not accept another term as president.

Castro’s 76-year-old brother Raul, the defense minister, is Castro’s constitutionally designated successor as first vice president, and is widely expected to be picked as president of the island’s ruling Council of State.

The younger Castro has headed Cuba’s caretaker government for 19 months, ever since Fidel announced he had undergone emergency intestinal surgery and was provisionally ceding his powers.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma said Saturday that “all the conditions have been created” for the gathering of the 614-member National Assembly, whose members were elected January 20. Renewed every five years, the assembly is charged at its first meeting with selecting a new 31-member Council of State led by a president, who is the nation’s head of state and government.

Fidel Castro has held the position since the current government structure was created in 1976. For 18 years before that, he was prime minister - a post that no longer exists.

He evidently retains his position as a member of the National Assembly, to which he was re-elected to last month, and he remains the head of the Communist Party as first secretary.

Castro wrote in an essay published Friday that preparations for the parliament meeting “left me exhausted,” and when he finally decided not to accept another presidential term, he did not regret it.

“I slept better than ever,” he wrote. “My conscience was clear and I promised myself a vacation.”

In the eastern Cuba district that Fidel Castro represents as a lawmaker, residents debated on Saturday who should replace him.

“Fidel is the greatest for us, but the most important thing now is that he rests and takes good care of himself,” said 72-year-old retiree Juan Alvarez. “I think that he made an intelligent decision - like all the decisions he made” since launching Cuba’s revolution in the mid-1950s.

Alvarez said he would accept whoever is chosen by the National Assembly, “and if it is Raul, well, that would be correct.”

Sitting with him in a park in the town of El Cobre, on the outskirts of Santiago, was 70-year-old Javier Solano, who noted that Raul Castro is no longer young, either.

“It would be good to look for a young replacement, like Fidel himself said in one of his writings, so that Cuba can show the world it is not like they say, that here there is only Fidel and Raul,” said Solano. “There is a whole nation as well behind them.” (AP)