Outgoing President Raúl Castro raises his arms solemnly after Miguel Diaz-Canel was elected as the island's new president at the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba on Thursday, April 1
HAVANA – Raul Castro was laid back when he gave a 90-minute speech in which he handed over the presidency to his handpicked successor Miguel Diaz-Canel. The 86-year-old revolutionary left his prepared remarks, joked and remembered the past. He talked about his great-grandchildren.
In short, he talked like a man retiring.  Castro, who stepped down from the presidency on Thursday, remains Cuba's most powerful person as chairman of the Communist Party. He has given all indications that after almost 60 years of management of the socialist state he has created with his brother Fidel, he retires, although the exact contours of his retirement are still visible.
Renowned Cuban singer Raul Torres, also a member of the National Assembly, who agreed to Diaz-Canel, tried to capture the mood with a special song for the occasion, just as after Fidel's death in 2016.
"It is a song of nostalgia, not sadness, because Raul continues to be our leader, "said Torres on Friday in an interview with The Associated Press. "He will always have a voice and a voice."
The song, which is heavily advertised by the Cuban state media, is called "The Last Mambi", a nod to the legendary machete-carrying Cuban rebels who fought against Spanish rule in the 19th century.
"Now you can be happy / confident that you will not be the last Mambi", Torres sings and turns to Raul. "Sure, there will be millions of weapons / with their machetes."
Castro's speech was longer than his typical and much shorter than the marathons delivered by Fidel. He said he expects that Diaz-Canel, a longtime party official who is little known both inside and outside Cuba, will serve for two, five years and assume the leadership of the Communist Party in 2021. But he spent more time in the adoptive mode than the commanding presence he was in a strictly controlled country.
"I will visit some of the provinces, as I suppose I will have less work," he said at a point in the nationwide televised speech.
There is a widespread rumor in Cuba that Castro will settle in a purpose-built house in the eastern city of Santiago, but the government has said nothing about it in public.
Raul's role still needs to be defined by the government. As party leader, he will still be up to date on what's going on in Cuba, and the president and his colleagues in the State Council are all people who have close ties to the former president.
According to the Cuban constitution, Diaz-Canel, who turned 58 on Friday, is now Chief of the Armed Forces. Raul, however, was the head of the military for a long time and would undoubtedly remain a very influential figure in this key segment of society. Diaz-Canel repeatedly called him "General" during his own speech to the nation on Thursday, which seemed to underline the former president's position.
Castro assumed the presidency for two years when Fidel suddenly retired for health reasons in 2006. He became president in 2008 and served two terms. He led the country through a series of gradual but important reforms that for the first time allowed the Cubans to travel freely, resume diplomatic relations with the US, and allowed Cubans to establish limited private enterprises.
It is difficult to underestimate the extent of power that Castro holds as head of the Communist Party.
All Castro-led reforms had to be ratified by the party and its militants. Their meetings are still the place where debates about the country's problems are taking place, such as the low state salaries of about $ 30 a month or the deterioration of public services.
The party also plays a key role Cuban society, from promoting public health to the organization of civil brigades in times of hurricanes.
"Keeping Raul at the head of the Communist Party is a guarantee of continuity," said Harold Cardenas, blogger and professor at the University of Matanzas. "It is also a reassurance for anyone who is nervous to have a new generation in the presidency."
Diaz-Cancel has emerged from a number of provincial offices and vice president since 2013. There is no indication that he intends to take a break from the past, or whether he can do it if he so wishes.
"We still do not know in terms of the dynamics of how much margin Diaz-Canel needs to serve," said Cardenas
Andrea Rodríguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP
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