After months of speculation about who will succeed Cuban leader Raúl Castro, something became clear this week: Castro will not be able to pass the government leadership to his son, Col. Alejandro Castro Espín.
At least, not legally.
Castro Espín was not nominated to the National Assembly, which according to Cuban law would prevent him from reaching the highest office in government. The head of the Councils of State and of Ministers must be a member of the Cuban Parliament and be ratified by it. Castro Espín, however, could retain great power, if he remains as the head of the National Defense and Security Commission, a newly created entity of which little is known, but which has control over ministries and security forces within the country.
With Castro Espín out, there is a significant decrease in the likelihood that the island’s next leader is from the same family that has been ruling the country for 60 years. Raúl Castro is supposed to step down in April.
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However, there does exist another possibility for a Castro to climb the political ladder: Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of Raúl Castro, has been nominated as a deputy for Parliament.
The director of the National Center for Sex Education has served as a de facto spokesperson for the government, especially abroad, but has said she has no intention to run for office. Last April, she made some surprising statements suggesting that there were several contenders to succeed her father, who said he would retire after two terms.
“Who do I want for the future of the country? I have no idea. In all of those I look at I see virtues and defects, including in my dad,” she said. “The people are the ones who have to decide. I do not have a favorite but there are several people with qualities. I'm still not going to make a statement, I'm watching.”
A political transition was to begin with elections for a new legislature that was scheduled for February. But the elections were postponed amid economic and political turmoil. Cuba is struggling with a huge loss of subsidies from Venezuela and profits from the export of medical services. The country urgently needs new investors at a time when relations with the United States are at a low point.
The island’s current 86-year-old leader was also nominated to the National Assembly and is expected to remain as first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party. The list of nominees also includes the first Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the widely presumed successor to Castro, as well as other figures within the group of more conservative “historical” leaders such as Ramiro Valdés, 85, and José Ramón Machado Ventura, 87.
The nominations of vice presidents Valdés and Machado Ventura — who also serves as second secretary of the Communist Party — have raised eyebrows because it seems to clash with pronouncements made by Castro himself. In the most recent Congress of the Party in April 2016, Castro proposed both age and term limits for government and party posts.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres en Twitter: @ngameztorres