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Cuba elects its first non-Castro president in 60 years: Miguel Diaz-Canel

Once sworn in, Diaz-Canel will be tasked with pursuing reforms begun by Castro to open up Cuba's economy to small private entrepreneurs and reach a rapprochement with its Cold War arch-enemy, the US

AFP/PTI  |  Havana 

Raul Castro. Photo - WikipediaCommons
Raul Castro. Photo - WikipediaCommons

is poised for the end of an era today as Raul steps down, formally handing power to his long-time deputy -- and thereby ending his family's six-decade grip on the island.

The silver-haired Diaz-Canel, 57 -- a top figure who has served as first vice since 2013 -- will become the island's first born after the 1959 revolution and the first in 60 years who is not named

Between them, father of the nation Fidel and his younger brother Raul made the island a key in the Cold War and helped keep communism afloat despite the collapse of the

Raul, now 86, has been in power since 2006, when he took over after sidelined Fidel, who seized power in the revolution.

Diaz-Canel, who has spent years climbing the party ranks, was named the sole candidate for the presidency yesterday.

He will formally be confirmed as the country's at roughly 9:00 am (1300 GMT) Thursday -- the anniversary of the 1961 invasion when Fidel Castro's forces defeated 1,400 US-backed rebels seeking to overthrow him. has long hailed the showdown as American imperialism's first great defeat in

It is also the day before the new president's 58th birthday.

Diaz-Canel, who some say bears a passing resemblance to American Richard Gere, is a fan of The Beatles whose penchant for wearing jeans has set him apart in Havana's corridors of power.

Although he has advocated fewer restrictions on the press and a greater openness to the internet, he also has a ruthless streak, with harsh words for Cuba's dissidents and the

Crucially, he will remain under the watchful eye of Castro, who will continue to serve as the of Cuba's all-powerful

Once sworn in, Diaz-Canel will be tasked with pursuing reforms begun by to open up Cuba's economy to small private entrepreneurs and reach a rapprochement with its Cold War arch-enemy, the

In 2015, and renewed diplomatic ties, with then making a historic visit to the island a year later. But, steps towards a normalization of ties have been severely curtailed since arrived in the last year.

Diaz-Canel will also inherit a youthful population hungry for change on the island -- one of the world's last outposts of Communism since the collapse of the

watchers and domestic analysts say he will favor continuity over change in the early days of his presidency, however.

As they began their momentous two-day meeting Wednesday, the 605 delegates of the cast their votes for the new Council of State, which counts 31 members and whose automatically becomes president.

"I have the honorable mission of putting comrade as president of the Council of State," commission president told assembly delegates, effectively ending any suspense over the identity of Cuba's new

Delegates immediately broke into applause and the two men rose to share an embrace as Cuba's two other vice presidents, both veterans of the revolution, looked on from the row behind.

Thursday's session will simply formalize the vote.

First Published: Thu, April 19 2018. 15:54 IST
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