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New Cuban Leadership Intensifies Speculation on Reforms

Raul Castro was confirmed as Cuba's president Sunday, after last week's announcement that his ailing brother, Fidel Castro, would step down after decades in power. Two experts on Cuba discuss the prospects for reforms in the country and relations with the United States.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    A unanimous vote from the 600-member Cuban National Assembly on Sunday confirmed Raul Castro as the new president of Cuba. The election marked the end of Fidel Castro's tenure as president.

    Raul, now 76 years old, has been the caretaker leader since his older brother, Fidel, became ill and largely disappeared from public view 18 months ago. In accepting his new title, Raul acknowledged his brother's special place and role.

    RAUL CASTRO, President of Cuba (through translator): There is only one commander-in-chief of the Cuban revolution. Fidel is Fidel. We all know that very well. Fidel is irreplaceable, and the people will carry on his work when he is no longer with us physically.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Fidel Castro remains the head of Cuba's governing Communist Party, and Raul said he would still be consulted.

  • CUBAN CITIZEN (through translator):

    I feel as if nothing has changed. Everything is the same. It's the same president.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    On the streets of Havana today, Cubans expressed different views.

  • CUBAN CITIZEN (through translator):

    He spoke about many things, that there should be change in Cuba. There will be change and things will start to get better for people.

  • CUBAN CITIZEN (through translator):

    Nothing, all the same. We are going to follow the same thing, no matter what they say.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Raul Castro, until this weekend Cuba's defense minister, said his priority was Cuba's ailing economy.

  • RAUL CASTRO (through translator):

    I insist that the country will have, as its priority, satisfying the basic needs of the population — material needs, as well as spiritual needs — starting with the strengthening of the national economy and its base of production.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Besides conferring the presidency on Raul Castro, the Cuban assembly yesterday chose a veteran Communist and Raul ally, the 77-year-old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, as first vice president. That puts him second in line for the presidency.

    Another veteran, Ricardo Alarcon, was re-elected president of the National Assembly.

    The U.S. State Department today dismissed the assembly's decisions as a sign of no real change.

  • TOM CASEY, State Department Spokesman:

    The Cuban people deserve much better than the handover of a family business of dictatorship between the Castro brothers.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Spokesman Tom Casey went on to say that real transition would mean allowing Cubans to elect their own leaders.

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