Raul Castro named new Cuban leader

February 24, 2008 1:11:59 PM PST
Cuba's parliament named Raul Castro president on Sunday, ending nearly 50 years of rule by his brother Fidel but leaving the island's communist system unshaken. The succession was not likely to bring a major shift in the policies of the communist government that have put it at odds with the United States. But many Cubans were hoping it would open the door to modest economic reforms that might improve their daily lives.

In another sign that major change was not afoot, Raul Castro, 76, proposed he would consult with the ailing 81-year-old Fidel on all major decisions of state, and parliament approved the proposal.

The vote came five days after Fidel said he was retiring, capping a career in which he frustrated efforts by 10 U.S. presidents to oust him.

In a surprise move, an old guard revolutionary leader was named No. 2. Jose Ramon Machado, who fought alongside the Castro brothers in the Sierra Maestra during the late 1950s, was named to the slot that Raul Castro had previously held. He is 77.

Cabinet secretary Carlos Lage, who many had expected would move up into the first vice president slot, maintained his spot as one of five other vice presidents on the 31-member Council of State, which governs the country.

The other four vice presidents included Juan Almeida Bosque, 80, a historic revolutionary leader; Interior Minister Abeldardo Colomoe Ibarra, 68; Esteban Lazo Hernandez, 63, a longtime Communist Party leader, and Gen. Julio Casas Regueiro, 71, who was Raul Castro's No. 2 at the Defense Ministry.

The council secretary remained Dr. Jose M. Miyar Barrueco, 75, physician and historic revolutionary leader, and longtime aide to Fidel Castro and Council of State.