Raul Castro has handpicked 57-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel as his successor after resigning as president of Cuba and ending more than half a century of Castro rule over the communist island.
Following Castro’s order, Members of the National Assembly voted in Diaz-Canel’s nomination as the sole candidate for president.
However, 86-year-old Castro may rule the country from behind the scenes as he will continue to preside over the Communist Party of Cuba.
As the Vice President under the previous administration, Diaz-Canel spearheaded efforts to roll out telecom networks across Cuba, but he is not expected to change the course of the administration prescribed by his predecessor.
Castro is handing the baton to his deputy at a time the US is threatening to re-impose sanctions on Cuba, while the country’s sole benefactor, Venezuela, is slowly drowning in a full-blown economic crisis.
Although he never attempted to depart from the communist ideology completely, Raul Castro enacted some glaring changes, making it easier for Cubans to travel, expanding internet access, and allowing them to own property, cellphones, and computers.
Cuba is the last remaining communist bastion in the Western Hemisphere. Its economy has grown 2.4% on average per year over the last decade, according to official statistics.
Analysts say an annual growth of at least 7% is necessary for more Cubans to find jobs and make a decent living. Today, more than two-thirds of Cubans work in the inefficient state sector, earning on average of US$30 a month. Most of the population is getting by largely due to free education, free healthcare, and some subsidized food and housing.