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Cuban President Raul Castro says he'll leave in 2018

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
updated 12:16 PM EST, Tue February 26, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Raul Castro is re-elected to a second five-year term
  • He will be 86 in 2018
  • Miguel Diaz-Canel is tapped to be first vice president

Havana (CNN) -- Cuban President Raul Castro said Sunday that he would step down from power in 2018, when his second term as president is set to end.

"I would like to make clear ... this will be my last term," he said during a nationally televised speech at the end of a session of the country's National Assembly.

The announcement came shortly after lawmakers re-elected Castro to a second five-year term. Last year, Castro said that Cuban officials, including the president, should be limited to two terms in office.

He was officially elected president of the island nation in 2008. In 2018, he will be 86.

Castro took over from his ailing, older brother, Fidel Castro, whom he quoted liberally on Sunday.

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"I quote: 'Revolution is the sense of the historical moment, to change everything that must change. It is equality and freedom. It is to treat and treat others as human beings. It is to emancipate ourselves with our own efforts. It is to defy powerful forces in and out of the social and national context ... It is to fight for our dream of justice for Cuba and the world, the fundamentals of our patriotism, and socialism, and our internationalism.' May this marvelous definition serve as a guide for the new generations of patriots and Cuban revolutionaries," Castro said.

Illness forced the elder Castro to step down after nearly 50 years in power.

Also Sunday, lawmakers elevated Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, 52, to the position of first vice president, putting him next in line to succeed Castro.

He is the first member of the generation born after the Cuban Revolution to reach the powerful position and stands in contrast to many of the octogenarian military officials who hold top positions in the government.

Diaz-Canel previously served as one of five second vice presidents and as minister of higher education. Trained as an electrical engineer, he has a reputation among many Cubans as a plainspoken problem solver.

Castro spoke glowingly of Diaz-Canel, saying his rise marks a "definitive step in the configuration of the future leadership of the country, through the gradual and organized transfer to the new generation taking over the main roles."

While not as widely known as other officials, Diaz-Canel last month headed a Cuban delegation that attended a large pro-government demonstration in Venezuela.

The event marked the day that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was due to have been sworn in for a new term. But Chavez missed his inauguration to receive cancer treatment in Cuba.

Castro also announced Sunday that Esteban Lazo Hernandez, 68, would assume the role of president of the National Assembly. Lazo had previously served in a variety of other roles, including second vice president.

Lazo replaces Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, who was the National Assembly president for 20 years and often acted as the point person for negotiations with the United States.

However, Alarcon's political future was clouded last year by the arrest of a top deputy on corruption charges.

Alarcon will now lead the government's effort to free five Cuban intelligence officers sentenced to jail in the United States, Cuban officials said.

Before his formal televised remarks on Sunday, Castro bantered with other high-ranking officials.

At one point, he said that the National Assembly should change venues from the drab convention center where it now meets to Havana's Capitol building.

"It's a jewel," Castro said. "It's true there was a time during the era of capitalism that's where all the bandits met but not any longer now that its ours."

The Capitol, a replica of the one in Washington, was previously the seat of government in Cuba but has mainly sat unused since the 1959 revolution.

Castro then asked how long it had taken to build the Capitol in Havana during its construction in the 1920s.

"A little more than two and a half years," replied Eusebio Leal, Havana's historian and member of the assembly.

"And how long would it take to build today?" Castro asked, referring to the cost overruns and inefficiency endemic to Cuban government construction projects.

"Not less than five," said Vice President Ramiro Valdez, who fought alongside Castro in the revolution and now oversees government public works.

Castro disagreed, saying the current government could not erect the same building in the less than 15 years.

CNN's Mayra Cuevas contributed to this report.

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