Cuba to name new leader to succeed Fidel Castro

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Cuba to name new leader to succeed Fidel Castro

Sun Feb 24, 2008 1:15am EST

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's rubber-stamp National Assembly will name Fidel Castro's successor on Sunday, ending the 49-year rule of the bearded revolutionary who turned Cuba into a communist state on America's doorstep.

His brother Raul Castro, who has been running Cuba since the 81-year-old leader was sidelined by illness 19 months ago, is widely expected to become the next president.

The 614-member legislature meets at 10 a.m. EST. An announcement on composition of the Council of State, the island's highest executive body, is expected in the afternoon.

Fidel Castro, who has aged from a military fatigue-clad commander in chief who gave seven-hour speeches under the Caribbean sun into a shuffling old man, has not appeared in public since undergoing intestinal surgery in July 2006.

He will retain significant but potentially waning influence as first secretary of the ruling Communist Party.

Castro announced his retirement as president last Tuesday, almost half a century after he ousted a U.S.-backed dictator in an armed revolution and began to create a persona that would turn him into an icon of the left, a perpetual thorn in Washington's side and a tyrant to his foes.

He said he was too weakened by his undisclosed illness to continue governing but would soldier on in the "battle of ideas" by writing articles.

Anti-Castro exiles and U.S. President George W. Bush have led calls for democratic reform on the island.

But in the streets of the capital Havana, the mood is more of indifference than expectation of political changes. Few think that with Fidel Castro gone the West's last communist state will crumble swiftly like many Soviet allies did.

Some of his staunchest supporters think he is still the unquestionable "leader of the revolution" and will continue pulling the strings of power.

"He has not left power. Fidel will never resign from revolution and power. What he is doing is resigning his posts, like the Che (Argentine revolutionary Ernesto Guevara) did," said Alejandro Ferras, 87, who followed Castro into the near suicidal attack on the Moncada army barracks in 1953.


"He will continue fighting like a soldier in the Battle of Ideas," Ferras said in his dilapidated Old Havana home, where he has lived for 62 years.

An army general who has lived in the shadow of his more famous and charismatic brother, Raul Castro is considered a manager more concerned with putting food on Cuban tables than waging an ideological war against the United States.

As acting president, Raul Castro has fostered debate on the failings of Cuba's state-run economy and raised expectations that reform may be coming. In December he stated that Cuba has "excessive prohibitions."

But so far he has delivered little other than relaxing customs rules for appliances and car parts that are much in demand, and desperately short in supply, in Cuba.

Many Cubans hope they will soon be allowed to freely buy and sell their homes, travel abroad and stay at hotels and beaches where only foreigners can now set foot.

Last year, Raul Castro extended an olive branch to the United States, saying he was open to talks but only after President George W. Bush, who tightened economic sanctions and travel restrictions to Cuba, leaves office.

Bush administration officials rejected the offer, calling Raul Castro "Fidel Lite" and denouncing what they see as the handing of power from one dictator to another.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle, Editing by Michael Christie)

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