Cuba’s Raul Castro Says This Five-Year Term to Be His Last

Cuban President Raul Castro said he won’t seek another term after being re-elected yesterday for five years, signaling an end to the Castros’ rule over the communist island by 2018.

Miguel Diaz-Canel, 52, was chosen as first-vice president by Cuban lawmakers, which would put him next in line to be president.

“This will be my ultimate mandate,” Castro said in a speech yesterday to the National Assembly, joined by his brother, Fidel. The decision “represents a defining step in shaping the future direction of the country through gradual and orderly transfer to new generations of top leaders.”

Castro, 81, also called for term limits and said there should be a “maximum” age for those who hold power, without specifying what that would be. While another successor may yet emerge as Cuba’s next ruler, Castro is grooming younger leaders who may offer different policies from the country’s traditional party members, said Tomas Bilbao of the Cuba Study Group.

“Castro has essentially disqualified the historical commanders of the revolution,” Bilbao, who heads the Washington-based organization that seeks to change U.S. policy toward Cuba and encourage a market-based economy on the island, said in a phone interview today. “We need to be prepared for a Cuban government without the Castros.”

Diaz-Canel was born a year after the Castro brothers and outgoing first vice president Jose Ramon Machado Ventura toppled the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in 1959. Having earned an electrical engineering degree, Diaz-Canel served with the communist party’s ruling committee since 1991 and headed the Higher Education Ministry before his promotion to vice president.

Castro has initiated measures to open Cuba’s economy after he assumed the presidency from his brother in 2008, including loosening of property laws and controls prohibiting private enterprise such as taxi and mobile-phone companies.