What is Cuba's future without a Castro?

From left Const. Brad Maxner of the Cape Breton Regional Police with children Zoey 11 Avery 9 and wife Lindsey. The police officer has been in the intensive care unit of a Havana Cuba hospital recovering from a head injury after a fall at a resort

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Cuba's new National Assembly (single-house parliament) gathered on Wednesday for its first session at Havana's Palace of Congresses for electing a successor of the current president of the country's State Council, Raul Castro.

The 86-year-old Castro is stepping down after two five-year terms.

Cuba turns to a model Communist Party official, Miguel Diaz-Canel, to steer it through a period of uncertainty when it finally turns the page on the Castro era in a vote on Thursday.

Diaz-Canel appears to be socially liberal and is considered an acceptable successor to the retiring elderly leaders who fought in the revolution. He is extremely unlikely to challenge one-party rule.

The virtually certain unanimous approval of the National Assembly will install someone from outside the Castro family in the country's highest government office for the first time in almost six decades.

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While the assembly promotes younger leaders, Castro and other older revolutionaries are expected to retain their power due to their hold on the Communist Party.

Castro, who had served for decades as defense minister, became president in 2008 when his older brother, Fidel Castro, formally handed over power as his health deteriorated.

Both Fidel and Raul Castro turned to radical politics at a young age as they went to school first in the eastern city of Santiago, later at the University of Havana.

While stressing he was acting to preserve and not dismantle socialism, Castro also introduced market reforms to one of the world's last Soviet-style centrally planned economies, permitting more small businesses and encouraging some foreign investment. He recently spoke out against the historic detente between the USA and Cuba achieved during President Barack Obama's tenure, calling it "a different way [for the U.S.] to try to reach its final objective to destroy the revolution".

Castro's moves to open the economy have largely been frozen or reversed as soon as they began to generate conspicuous shows of wealth by the new entrepreneurial class in a country officially dedicated to equality among its citizens.

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Castro also oversaw the historic thaw in relations with the USA and introduced new - though still limited - social freedoms, such as expanding internet access and allowing Cubans to travel and own cellphones.

But with the economy suffering from a crisis in allied Venezuela and relations with the United States strained anew under President Donald Trump, some Cubans are pessimistic about their lives improving and feel nervous about what is to come.

If elected, the new president will inherit a country in the throes of change and mired in financial troubles. "I'd like to have more opportunity, to buy a auto, and have a few possessions".

"Change would be good to give opportunities to the opposition, so that there are other parties and freer elections", said Ruben, 51, a musician who did not want to give his full name for fear of reprisals.

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