Havana, Cuba (CNN)For the first time in the lives of most Cubans, a man not named Castro is set to take over the leadership of the Communist-run island nation.
A new president is scheduled to be selected during a two-day National Assembly meeting that begins Wednesday — and it’s likely to be a Cuban official who wasn’t even born yet when Fidel Castro led his revolution down from the mountains to take over the government in 1959.JUST WATCHEDNew assembly to choose post-Castro presidentReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
New assembly to choose post-Castro president 02:01Fidel Castro had long said he expected to die while still in office, but following a mystery illness and botched intestinal surgery in 2008, he was forced to step down. He died in 2016.His younger brother Raul Castro replaced him as head of state, the Cuban Communist Party and the island’s military, promising to make their revolution “prosperous and sustainable.”JUST WATCHEDOne Cuban family, 3 generations under FidelReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
One Cuban family, 3 generations under Fidel 04:43Now Raul Castro, 86, is leaving office, apparently convinced that the best way to ensure the survival of his and his brother’s revolution is to begin a transition that he can help oversee. Read More”When the National Assembly reconvenes next year on April 19th,” Raul Castro said in 2017, “I will have concluded my second and last term in front of this state and government and Cuba will have a new president.” Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaA couple in Céspedes, Cuba, pose in front of their home. After he took power in 1959, Fidel Castro promised to improve the lives of people living in Cuba’s poverty-stricken countryside. He oversaw literacy and electrification campaigns and built hospitals for the rural poor. In recent decades, though, many Cubans living in the countryside have moved to cities, seeking better housing conditions and more economic opportunities.Hide Caption 1 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaAn American car from the 1950s rots in the run-down neighborhood of Centro Habana. Transportation and housing are in short supply in Cuba. Most Cubans still work for the state and barely earn enough to live on, much less afford a luxury item like a car or a better place to live. Cuban officials blame the US trade embargo for Cuba’s economic woes. Critics say government inefficiency and poor planning have kept wages low.Hide Caption 2 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaCubans get ready to rock at the Rolling Stones’ historic concert in Havana in 2016. The band played just days after President Barack Obama visited the island and there was a sense of change sweeping Cuba. In the early years of the Cuban revolution, rock and roll bands like the Rolling Stones were banned for their supposed “ideologically divergent” influences.Hide Caption 3 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaHurricane Irma blows down palm trees in Caibairién, Cuba, as the Category 5 storm ravaged much of Caribbean in early September of 2017. The storm wrecked large parts of Cuba’s agricultural sector and left thousands with damaged homes. Even though Cubans are proud of their well-organized hurricane preparedness system, Irma overwhelmed the country’s efforts. At least 10 people died on the island as a result the storm.Hide Caption 4 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaCubans fish off Havana’s Malecón seawall at sunset. The wall has been used during the years by Cubans launching small boats to attempt the dangerous journey across the Straits of Florida to the United States. Cubans who reached the US were allowed to stay there under the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” law that gave Cubans special immigration status. But in 2017, President Obama ended that policy and Cubans who reach the US are now being sent back to the island.Hide Caption 5 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaA classic American car rolls by the first American cruise ship to visit Cuba in decades. In 2016 the US restarted regular cruise ship service to the island, and for the first time since the Cuban revolution, US visitors came to Cuba in large numbers. Americans are still restricted to “permitted” forms of travel to the island, and President Donald Trump has enacted restrictions on where Americans can stay and spend money, to prevent their dollars from going into the pocket of the Cuban military.Hide Caption 6 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaCubans sell “highway cheese” by the side of the road in Eastern Cuba. During his 10 years in power, Raul Castro’s government created 200 categories of professions in which Cubans can, for the first time, legally work for themselves. These reforms led to hundreds of thousands of Cubans leaving their government jobs to work in the private sector. Still, an untold number of Cubans work in black market or semi-legal jobs that the Cuban government does not recognize.Hide Caption 7 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaCuban students greet Fidel Castro’s funeral caravan in 2016 as it traveled through Holguín, Cuba, near where Castro was born. After Castro died at the age of 90, his ashes were driven through the island, retracing the route he took as a young guerrilla leader. Upon taking power, Castro promised democratic elections but instead stayed in office for nearly 50 years.Hide Caption 8 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaA flag hangs from a Havana apartment building on January 1, 2018, the 59th anniversary of the Cuban revolution. The majority of Cubans today were born after the revolution and have only ever known communism and leaders named Castro. When Raul Castro steps down on April 19, his successor is likely to be the first president of Cuba from the post-revolution generation.Hide Caption 9 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaA boxer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, watches matches between US and Cuban fighters in Pinar del Rio, Cuba. After the revolution, Cuba was virtually cut off from the US for decades. Now, despite the countries’ ongoing political differences, there are a flurry of cultural exchanges taking place.Hide Caption 10 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaA Cuban man wheels his possessions in Gibara, Cuba, under a sign quoting Fidel Castro: “A new dawn shall begin to illuminate our future, a future that shall be more brilliant, a Socialism that shall be more refined, a Revolutionary work that will be more promising.”Hide Caption 11 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaCuban cowboys rope a steer near Santa Clara, Cuba. Despite having more land than any other island in the Caribbean, Cuba imports most of its food. The Cuban agriculture sector has struggled since the collapse of the Soviet Union and is plagued by government inefficiency and shortages. Farmers lack basic equipment and all cattle belong to the state.Hide Caption 12 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaA protester carrying an American flag runs through Havana’s revolution square on May Day 2017 ahead of a government-sponsored parade as plainclothes Cuban security agents try to catch him. International human rights groups criticize the Cuban government for repressing internal dissent. Cuban officials say the island’s dissidents are “mercenaries” paid by Washington to stir up trouble.Hide Caption 13 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaA worker at the Partagas factory in Havana sorts some of Cuba’s famed cigars to ensure that each box contains tobacco of the same color. Cuban cigars are still rolled by hand as they have been for generations. For years, Cuban cigars were banned in the US, but as part of his shift in policy toward Cuba, President Obama changed the law to allow US citizens to bring habanos back from trips abroad. The US trade embargo still prohibits the sale of Cuban cigars in the US.Hide Caption 14 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's CubaA young Cuban girl in her “pioneer” school uniform lights a candle at a Havana church days before the 2015 visit of Pope Francis to Cuba. Religion was all but banned following the Cuban revolution, and Catholics in particular faced government discrimination for openly practicing their faith. Over the last 20 years, the Cuban government has slowly eased restrictions on religion. In 2015, Raul Castro, a longtime atheist, said meeting the Pope made him consider returning to the Catholic church.Hide Caption 15 of 16 Photos: Inside Raul Castro's Cuba”Long live Raul,” reads a pro-government message written on a wall in Havana. Now 86 years old, Raul Castro will step down as president of Cuba on April 19, 2018. Although he will remain as the powerful first secretary of the Communist Party in Cuba, Castro says it is time for the next generation of supporters of the Cuban revolution to take power.Hide Caption 16 of 16The voting will take place Wednesday, the state-run newspaper Granma reported, with results announced Thursday.Heirs apparent?For years, many Cubans speculated that Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela — a member of the National Assembly and advocate for gay and transgender rights — or his son, Alejandro — a colonel in Cuban counterintelligence who represented the island in secret talks with the US — would be the next Castros to take power.But neither is now in the running, Cuban government officials say.Fidel Castro’s son commits suicideInside a Cuban cigar factoryInstead, Cuba’s first vice president is the apparent successor to Raul Castro: a 57-year old technocrat named Miguel Díaz-Canel, who has promised to hew closely to the course set by the Castro brothers.”I believe in continuity,” Díaz-Canel told reporters recently when asked about his vision for Cuba’s future. “I think there always will be continuity.””Continuity” most likely means continued restrictions on the private sector for Cubans, tight controls on foreign investment and no openings to the single-party political system.Will a new leader make a difference?Few people expect much to change in the only Communist-run country in the Western hemisphere, at least not right away.Now 24 and a supporter of the Cuban revolution, Elián González says Cuba will remain the same after Raul Castro steps down as president. “Cuba will keep being Cuba, no one can change it,” Elián González, the boy found on an inner tube off the Florida coast in 1993, told CNN. González, then 5 years old, was placed with relatives in Miami but returned to Cuba with his father following a court battle. He was seen frequently with Fidel Castro, whom he described as being like a father to him.JUST WATCHEDA look Fidel Castro’s life (2016)ReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
A look Fidel Castro’s life (2016) 03:45Now González, 24, has emerged as one of the most effective advocates for the revolution and many Cubans believe he will one day have a leadership role.”Cuba won’t change if another administration comes, if another president comes,” he said.Cuban leaders say they are “perfecting” their revolution while resisting external pressures to open the economy and political system.Castro will remain a powerful figureEven though Raul Castro, according to Cuban government officials, plans to move to Santiago de Cuba, the city where his brother Fidel was buried, he is still expected to exercise a large measure of control over the Cuban government and have the final say on important decisions. Castro will remain first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, a member of the National Assembly and, even if he is no longer president, the most powerful public figure on the island.JFK's 'secret' doomsday map revealedThis week marks the anniversary of the Cuban government victory over CIA-trained Cuban exile forces at the Bay of Pigs, a highly symbolic moment for Castro to step down and for his replacement to be chosen in a secret vote by the National Assembly.Stacked with members of the Cuban Communist Party, the only political party allowed on the island, and fervent supporters of the revolution, the National Assembly nearly always votes unanimously for the proposals made by the top Cuban leadership.Despite their efforts to join the National Assembly, government opponents have either lost or not been allowed by the government on the ballot in municipal elections.A revolutionary leaderEven as Cuba’s economy struggles and officials tweak the island’s economic model with little apparent success, there is no transformational leader waiting in the wings.Fidel Castro Fast Facts“You see it on signs everywhere here, ‘Fidel is Cuba,'” said Vicki Huddleston, the former head of the US diplomatic mission in Havana. “You won’t be seeing signs that say ‘Raul is Cuba.’ He was a placeholder. The next head of Cuba will be a placeholder. There is no charismatic leader like Fidel was.”For opponents of the Cuban revolution who expected support for the government to crumble when Fidel Castro died, a peaceful transfer of power could indicate they have even longer to wait for change to occur.JUST WATCHEDInside Cuba’s cold-war era spy museum ReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Inside Cuba’s cold-war era spy museum 03:00Supporters of the Cuban government said their revolution will survive the departure of the Castros.”Many people say ‘when the Castros’ mandate ends’ but I don’t believe the ideology will end; not what they have taught us, nor the ideas of the Castros,” Elián González told CNN. “Cuba is more than its government.”