Members of the National Assembly attend the closing session of the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2012. Cuba’s President Raul Castro accepted a new five-year term that will be, he said, his last as Cuba’s president and tapped rising star Diaz-Canel, 52, as vice-president and first in the line of succession. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
HAVANA (AP) — Raul Castro announced Sunday that he will step down as Cuba’s president in 2018 following a final five-year term, for the first time putting a date on the end of the Castro era. He tapped rising star Miguel Diaz-Canel as his top lieutenant and first in the line of succession.
The 81-year-old Castro also said he hopes to establish two-term limits and age caps for political offices including the presidency — an astonishing prospect for a nation led by Castro or his older brother Fidel since their 1959 revolution.
The 52-year-old Diaz-Canel is now a heartbeat from the presidency and has risen higher than any other Cuban official who didn’t directly participate in the heady days of the revolution.
“This will be my last term,” Castro said, his voice firm.
In his 35-minute speech, Castro hinted at other changes to the constitution, some so dramatic that they will have to be ratified by the Cuban people in a referendum. Still, he scotched any idea that the country would soon abandon socialism, saying he had not assumed the presidency in order to destroy Cuba’s system.