Raul Castro leaving Cuban presidency, not power

A Cuban flag

Cuba swearing in new president today to succeed Raul Castro

A 57-year-old bureaucrat replaced Raul Castro as the leader of Cuba on Thursday, launching a new political era as a government led by a single family for six decades tries to ensure the long-term survival of one of the world's last communist states.

In his first speech as the new head of state before the National Assembly, Diaz-Canel said that "in this new legislature there will be no space for those aspiring to a capitalist restoration". After being sworn in to the new post, he promised to "continue the revolution" and noted that his predecessor, Raul Castro, will continue to make essential decisions.

On Wednesday, Castro wore a dark suit in place of military fatigues and sat near Diaz-Canel as an official read out the names of proposed leaders to the 604 legislators gathered at a wood-panelled convention center in a quiet Havana suburb.

The 57-year-old, who has spent years climbing the party ranks, was named the sole candidate for the presidency on Wednesday and was formally named on Thursday to a five-year term, taking the helm a day before his 58th birthday.

For many Cubans, struggling with economic hardships and frustrated with the government's emphasis on continuity rather than change, the transition in leader is seen as unlikely to bring much beyond the symbolism of a new leader.

Talking about monetary problems but doing nothing about them "would doom the Cuban economy to yet another decade of economic stagnation, one of the least attractive features of Raul's legacy", he added.

In his first speech as president, Diaz-Canel vowed to keep the country on the path of that "revolution", but also on the road to economic reform.

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As Diaz-Canel walked to the front of the chamber, he high-fived the front line of delegates, embracing Castro as he took to the stage, images broadcast on state television showed.

The silver-haired Diaz-Canel - a top Communist Party figure who has served as first vice president since 2013 - assumes power from Raul Castro, who himself took over from his elder brother Fidel, father of the 1959 revolution. For his part, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang congratulated the new Cuban president and expressed his wishes to boost relationships.

- Early life: Born April 20, 1960, and raised in central Villa Clara Province. People there describe him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services.

"We should not expect dramatic policy changes as a result of Diaz-Canel's succession", said William LeoGrande, a professor at American University specializing in Cuban politics.

Two years after taking over from his ailing brother in 2006, Castro launched a series of reforms that expanded Cuba's private sector to almost 600,000 people and allowed citizens greater freedom to travel and access to information. Miguel was the only candidate presented for the vote.

The Candidacy Commission also nominated another six vice leaders of the Council of State, Cuba's highest government body.

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