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Cuban President Raul Castro stepping down Thursday, giving power to hand-picked successor
Cuban President Raul Castro (left) has decided to step down and has picked First Vice president Miguel Díaz-Canel to become the next president of Cuba. Díaz-Canel, 57, will likely become Castro's successor on Thursday. (Jorge Beltran/AFP/Getty Images)

Cuban President Raul Castro stepping down Thursday, giving power to hand-picked successor

On Thursday, Raul Castro will step down as Cuba’s president, handing over the reins to his hand-picked successor, 57-year-old Miguel Díaz-Canel . This will be the first time in 59 years that a Castro has not led Cuba.

Raul Castro, 86, became president of Cuba in 2008, taking over for his brother Fidel Castro, who had controlled the nation as president since 1976 and as prime minister since 1959. Fidel Castro died in November 2016.

Who is next president of Cuba?

Miguel Díaz-Canel is considered a rising star in the Communist Party. He was the leader of the Communist Party of Cuba in the Villa Clara province between 1994 and 2003.

However, despite his political prominence, almost nothing is known about his personal life. For the past five years, he has held the title of first vice president — a title also once held by Raul Castro under the regime of his brother, Fidel.

Before that role, Díaz-Canel  was minister of higher education.

Díaz-Canel  is no fan of independent journalism. He was caught on tape in 2017 criticizing independent media to other members of the Communist Party.

Not surprisingly, he’s also not a fan of the United States. During a speech in October, he criticized the U.S. for saying that Cuba needed to move toward democracy.

"Imperialism can never be trusted, not even a tiny bit, never,” he said, comparing Cuban citizens getting more of a say in their government with a hostile American takeover.

Election? What election?

Díaz-Canel will be appointed by Castro, not nominated or elected. Unlike Russia and Egypt, Cuba will not even be holding a façade election for appearances.

What will retirement look like for Raul Castro?

Raul Castro may be giving up his title, but he isn’t giving up his influence. He will still remain head of the country’s Communist Party, and it is suspected that he will have a lot of influence over the new president.

Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Cuban Studies Institute in Miami, told USA Today that it’s possible that Raul Castro will not actually be giving up anything other than a title.

"Raúl never liked the diplomatic activities, going to the parties," he said. "So he's going to put this guy in there and create a facade for the new generation. But Díaz-Canel is not going to have any decision-making power."

What does this mean for Cuba?

Most likely? Just more of the same. Díaz-Canel  has worked closely with Raul Castro for at least five years now, and is being hand picked to carry on the Castros' legacy.

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