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Cuba's ageing leaders bowing out

President Raul Castro, 82, says elected officials will be limited to two five-year terms and subject to an age limit.
Last modified: 25 Feb 2013 10:48

It was about time! That must have been the thought running through the  minds of millions of Cubans as their nearly 82-year-old President Raul Castro announced that a new generation is to take over running the communist island.
 
Although his second and last term is due to end in 2018, the president minced no words: not only will top elected officials be limited to two five-year terms, but they will also be subject to a maximum age limit!

Not that those limitations ever applied to the Castro brothers. Can anyone forget that Fidel and Raul Castro held the country's first and second top positions for more than half a century, since day one of the 1959 Cuban Revolution? 
 
But the law of time applies to every man, and with only a handful of the revolution's veteran leaders still alive, Raul Castro could wait no longer. "The gradual and orderly transfer [of  power] to the new generation is a process to be completed in the next five years," he said.
 
It is a process that few would argue has started much too late, but at least it is starting in earnest, with the naming of the Communist Party's rising star, 52-year-old Miguel Diaz Canel, to the key position of First Vice President of the Council of State. Diaz Canel replaces 82-year-old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura.

The First Vice President would take over if Castro could not complete his term, and would presumably be first in line for the presidency in 2018.
 
Diaz Canel is an engineer and former education minister who has held important Communist Party leadership positions. He and everyone else elected to the National Assembly and the all powerful Council of State vow, of course, to defend Cuban socialism to the death.  
 
Nonetheless, they will have to lead the country out of the Castro era.

For millions of Cubans - and for me who lived in Cuba for almost a decade under the Castro brothers - that era is still hard to picture.