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article imageCastro will still hold key guiding role after handover

By Alexandre GROSBOIS (AFP)     Apr 12, 2018 in World

Cuba is preparing for the end of an era next week when Raul Castro steps down as president, ending his family's six-decade grip on power and paving the way for a younger leader.

But analysts say his replacement, expected to be 57-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel -- currently Cuba's first vice president -- won't quite be alone at the helm of the communist island.

Castro steps down on April 19th, when the National Assembly will pick Cuba's new leader, but even at the age of 86, he will still have a pivotal role as head of the all-powerful Communist Party of Cuba until its next congress in 2021.

It's a powerful perch from which he can keep a watchful eye on Cuba's restive old guard who, some fear, could try to put the brakes on his more ambitious reforms.

The incoming president "will have less power in his hands than Raul or Fidel Castro," said Jorge Duany, head of the Institute of Cuban Research at the University of Florida.

"He will have to share it with other political figures and high-ranking military."

Cuba watcher Arturo Lopez Levy said the incoming president will "need a collegial style of management" and need to be able to strike a balance between various competing factions in the new government.

Key figures who have risen through the party like 60-year-old Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, or Marino Murillo, the 57-year-old who is a key architect of Cuba's economic reforms, could play important roles in the incoming administration.

Much speculation also surrounds Raul's son, Colonel Alejandro Castro, and his ex-son-in-law Luis Alberto Lopez-Calleias, who heads the powerful military-controlled Business Administration Group (GAE).

- Continued presence -

Cuban political scientist Esteban Morales said Diaz-Canel would benefit from Raul's continued presence at the head of the communist party.

"Raul has the experience, the leadership, and the recognition to advise the government and provide coherence," Morales said.

Even if Cuba will be without a Castro as leader for the first time since Fidel Castro led the 1959 revolution, little is likely to change immediately with the accession of Diaz-Canel.

Though he faces high expectations of deepening Castro's reforms along a set of guidelines endorsed by the party last year, analysts expect him to take a softly-softly approach.

"It won't be done in two days," said Morales, who said he doesn't see "Diaz-Canel immediately launching into a series of actions."

Having worked his way through the ranks of the party, his key task will be to ensure that the revolution is "maintained," said Morales. For that to happen, "he has to take a series of extraordinarily important measures. Otherwise, we simply don't know what could happen."

Only once since 1959 has Cuba undergone a transition at the top, when Fidel, stricken by illness, passed the baton to Raul in 2006.

"Few transitions in the history of Latin America and communist countries have been so carefully organized," said Lopez-Levy, of the University of Texas Grande Valley.

Fidel died in 2016, and now it falls to Raul, at 86, to hand over power to a new generation, the first not to have participated in the revolution.

Morales believes Diaz-Canel, with Raul looking benevolently over his shoulder, is well equipped for the challenges ahead.

"He is the youngest among the top leaders, he has many years of experience, was leader of the party in two provinces, and has been integrated in a coherent way into public life."

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