(FILE) Cuban President Fidel Castro (L)By ALDAIR ARRIOLA-GOMEZ ———————

CLAREMONT, Calif. – The death of Fidel Castro last year and his brother Raul Castro’s pledge to resign in 2018 will create an opportunity for a new leader to emerge in Cuba.

It will be the first time neither of the Castro brothers have held the presidential seat in 58 years. Cuba’s relationships with other countries, specifically the U.S., as well as the lives of the Cuban people, will likely shift considerably under a new president.

Fidel Castro became the leader of Cuba after the historic revolution of 1959. Since then, he has served as prime minister, president, and first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba. In 2006, Castro temporarily transferred the presidency to his brother Raul, due to his deteriorating health. In 2008, Raul Castro officially became the leader of Cuba, as the elder Castro’s health couldn’t permit him to return to power.

Raul Castro has announced that he will step down in February 2018. “I will not become the great-grandfather nor the great-grandson as then the Cubans would get bored of me’” he said during a visit to Mexico in 2015.

He didn’t however state from what positions he would step down. Currently, he is the president of the Council of State, the president of the Council of Ministers of Cuba, and the first secretary of the Central Committee of Cuba’s Communist Party.

“It’s difficult to figure out what Raul Castro will do; no one knows,” said Jorge Duany, the director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. He visited Pomona College in January to speak on Cuba-U.S. relations under the Trump administration.

Raul Castro can choose to step down from all his posts but it is likely he will continue as the leader of the Communist Party, Duany said. Although he hasn’t stated so himself, many experts on Cuba have speculated Castro will likely remain as a key figure in Cuban politics.

The next leader of Cuba faces an important challenge: how to politically empower young Cubans who only learned about the revolution from reading history books. “The Castro regime has been lengthy, and therefore two generations of Cubans have been left out of power,” Duany said. “The younger generations have never been empowered or held major positions of influence in the government.”

Many young Cubans cannot name a revolutionary leader apart from the Castro brothers, Duany noted. “The next leader must engage with young Cubans to preserve the core ideas of the Cuban Revolution.” Duany’s comment reflects uncertainty about the continuation of the communist ideology that could be threatened under a new president.

Recent speculation proposes that Miguel Diaz-Canel, the current vice president, will take over from Castro. Diaz-Canel is 56 years old – 29 years younger than Raul Castro –and was not a member of the original Cuban revolution, so he would be the first Cuban president who didn’t live through the 1959 uprising.

Diaz-Canel was well-liked by the two Castro brothers, according to the Miami Herald newspaper, which predicted he will be the next president. Diaz-Canel replaced Raul Castro as vice president after Castro took over as president due to his brother’s death. This move was seen by many as a signal that Diaz-Canal is being groomed to be the next Cuban leader.

“This a new challenge for the government,” said Duany, referencing the notion that the next president must inspire younger Cubans to keep the communist legacy.

(Written by Aldair Arriola-Gomez; Feb. 10, 2017)

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