The succession of Cuban ruler Raúl Castro may be less clear than previously thought.
Recent remarks by Mariela Castro Espín suggest that there is more than one candidate to replace her father, who has publicly stated that his tenure as president of the State and Ministers' councils would end in 2018.
“Who do I want for the future of the country? I have no idea. In all [the candidates] I look at, I see virtues and defects, including in my father,” Mariela Castro told students at the University of Havana's School of Communication on Friday afternoon.
“The people have to decide. I do not have a preferred candidate but there are several people with qualities. I'm not going to say anything yet, I'm observing,” she said, according to a story published in Cubanet.
El Nuevo Herald was not able to independently verify the statements. However, a Twitter account tied to the School of Communication, which was reporting on Castro’s visit to the university, posted and then deleted the following Tweet in Spanish: “@CastroEspinM in @fcomUH: Managing a country is difficult. I do not have a favorite for 2018. There are some whom I like, but I keep observing.”
Cubans do not cast votes for president, but rather for local representatives of the People's Power and deputies to the National Assembly. The new representatives of the National Assembly who are scheduled to take their seats in February 2018 then elect the president of the Council of States and Council of Ministers. For many years, Fidel Castro and later his brother Raúl were unanimously elected to both posts.
Miguel Díaz-Canel's ascent to first vice-president, replacing José Ramón Machado Ventura — relegated to vice-president — was widely viewed as a calculated political move to pave the way for the 57-year-old engineer who was rising in the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) to replace Raúl Castro. But now it seems that other powerful figures in the Cuban political scene, including other members of the Castro family, could be potential successors.
While Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, brother of Mariela and head of the National Defense and Security Commission, rarely appears as a rising figure in Cuba’s state-controlled press, he has received more international attention after it became publicly known that he played a lead role in negotiations with the U.S. government to exchange prisoners and restore diplomatic relations.
Raúl Castro, meanwhile, seemed to have poured a bucket of cold water on the presidential aspirations of the current second secretary of the Communist Party, Machado Ventura, during the party's last Congress in April 2016. Castro proposed limiting the age of those who occupy high political and government positions, as well as term limits.
“It's not a personal matter, I'm like them, I'm 85 years old, I'm one of the oldest, not as old as Machado,” the Cuban leader said during a tense session. “He is the senior veteran, I believe.”
Machado, a conservative who “hates Díaz-Canel,” according to a source with close ties to the Cuban government who supports the policy of rapprochement, would turn 88 in 2018. However, Castro refrained from acting immediately and said that the measures would be implemented within the next five years.
During a recent diplomatic trip through Europe, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez also made statements that have further muddled the successor issue by saying that Raúl Castro has no constitutional obligation to step down.
“Cuban law, as in many countries, contemplates indefinite election,” Rodríguez told Diario de Noticias in Portugal. “However, I know the president's public stances as it relates to constitutional or legislative review processes to establish some limitation on the number of mandates. Still, there are no constitutional amendments in that regard.
“From the point of view of the Constitution and the electoral law, there are no restrictions on indefinite reelection,” Rodríguez replied to a question about whether Cuba’s ruler could be a candidate again if relations with the United States deteriorate.
In a separate interview with a Spanish television channel, Cuba’s top diplomat also declined to comment on Castro's succession and simply said that “we will have to wait for the elections to know the results.”
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres