Raul Castro turns 82, with heir-apparent on deck

In this Jan. 25, 2013 file photo, Cuba’s President Raul Castro smiles after arriving at the Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport in Santiago, Chile, to attend the CELAC-EU economic summit. On Monday, June 3, 2013, Castro turned 82-years-old.
AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo, File

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba’s Raul Castro marked his 82nd birthday on Monday, June 3 in another reminder that time is running out for the aging generation that has led the country since the 1959 revolution.

Castro has been in power since a life-threatening intestinal disease forced his brother Fidel to step aside in 2006. Since then he has embarked on a program of social and economic reforms, while vowing that Cuba will remain socialist.

“Raul has done much of what I hoped he would,” said Roberto Roman, a 54-year-old resident of the capital. “I agree with what he said about this being his last term. … Raul should finish what he started.”

Earlier this year Castro announced that his current presidential term, which ends in 2018, will be his last, for the first time since the 1959 revolution naming a date beyond which Cuba will not be led by him or his brother.

In a sign of the inevitable generational leadership change, Castro named as his new vice president and heir-apparent Miguel Diaz-Canel, who at 53 is relatively young compared to the octogenarians who occupy many top positions.

Castro’s reforms have been gradually taking effect especially since 2010, including the legalization of many non-government jobs and private businesses, the private cultivation of fallow state land, the relaxation of limitations on overseas travel, and the legitimization of used car and real estate markets.

His critics, however, say change has been slow to come and lament the lack of political reform like multiparty elections.

Castro’s birthday was not mentioned in state-run newspapers and no public celebrations were announced, but some people wished him well on social media and on the streets of Havana.

“I wish him success in his work,” said Frank Gonzalez, 45.

Raul Castro was born June 3, 1931, in the eastern town of Biran.

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