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Posts tagged ‘Christila Island of Cuba’

Russia and Cuba rebuild ties that frayed after Cold War

October 29, 2019

HAVANA (AP) — Over the last year Russia has sent Cuba 1,000 minibuses, 50 locomotives, tens of thousands of tourists and a promise to upgrade the island’s power grid with a multi-million dollar improvement plan.

Russian-Cuban trade has more than doubled since 2013, to an expected $500 million this year, mostly in Russian exports to Cuba. And a string of high-ranking Russian officials have visited their former ally in the Caribbean, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. On Tuesday, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel lands in Moscow for meetings with officials including President Vladimir Putin, with the expectation that they will move forward on deals for more trade and cooperation.

Russian-Cuban ties are far from the Cold War era of near-total Cuban dependence on the Soviet bloc, which saw this island as a forward operating base in the Americas then largely abandoned it in the 1990s. But observers of Cuban and Russian foreign policy say there is a significant warming between the former partners prompted in part by the Trump administration’s reversal of President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba. Cuba and Russia are also heavily supporting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whom the U.S. has been trying to overthrow.

“We did make huge mistakes in the 1990s while turning our backs on Cuba. That time is definitely over, and I’m absolutely sure that our relations deserve better attention from Russia,” said Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament. “They deserve more investments from Russia both in terms of finances and equipment of course, but also human resources. And definitely we should assist, we should help, Cuba; we should support Cuba as long as it’s discriminated against, as long as it’s sanctioned, as long as it’s blockaded by the United States.”

Neither country provides many details about their improving relations, but Russian products being exported to Cuba include new-model Lada automobiles and Kamaz trucks. There’s a new Cuban-Russian joint venture to produce constructions materials, and when Medvedev visited Cuba this month, he inaugurated a petroleum products plant and signed deals to repair three Soviet-era power plants.

As tourism from the U.S. slackens, Russian visits rose 30% in 2018, to 137,000. “Russia is trying to preserve the zone of influence it had during the era of the Soviet Union, looking for partners in Latin America and letting Washington know that it’s still a great power,” said Arturo López-Levy, a Cuban-born assistant professor of international relations and politics at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. “Cuba’s signing up for projects that can benefit it, and are already showing results on the island.”

Russia is making no secret of its desire to play reliable partner to an island facing hostility from the United States, including sanctions on ships bringing oil from Venezuela. “It’s obvious, the U.S. desire to create a toxic atmosphere around cooperation with Cuba, to frighten investors and block the flow of energy,” Medvedev said during his trip to Havana. “Cuba can always count on Russia’s support.”

During the 1960s, 1970s and ’80s, Cuba was filled with Soviet products and citizens, who worked alongside Cubans in chemical plants, mines and army bases. Moscow sent billions in aid before the fall of the Soviet Union caused a disastrous 30% drop in gross domestic product.

Cuba emerged with $35 billion in debt to the Soviet Union, 90 percent of which Russia forgave in 2014, an event that Cuban-Russian anthropologist Dmitri Prieto Samsónov called the start of the modern era of relations between the two countries.

“Russia started to think more about its business and government interests and a new relationship with Cuba emerged on the foundation of the old brotherly relations,” Prieto said.

Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

Putin hosts Cuban leader for talks on expanding ties

October 29, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Cuba’s resilience in the face of U.S. pressure as he hosted his Cuban counterparts for talks Tuesday on expanding cooperation between the old allies.

Putin told Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel that Russia has always remained supportive of Cuba. “It’s not easy to solve economic and social issues in the conditions that Cuba finds itself in, but you have done it successfully,” he said. “We are glad to see the strengthening of the Cuban state.”

Russian-Cuban ties are still far from the Cold War era of near-total Cuban dependence on the Soviet bloc, which saw the island as a forward operating base in the Americas then largely abandoned it in the 1990s. But observers of Cuban and Russian foreign policy say there is a significant warming between the former partners, prompted in part by the Trump administration’s reversal of President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba.

Cuba and Russia are also heavily supporting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whom the U.S. has been trying to overthrow. Speaking to Putin, Díaz-Canel said his government considers developing ties with Russia its top priority and hailed a recent visit by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. “We observe the growing role of Russia that resists the U.S. attempts at domination,” he added.

The Cuban leader on Tuesday also met separately with Medvedev for talks on boosting economic ties. Russian-Cuban trade has more than doubled since 2013, to an expected $500 million this year, mostly in Russian exports to Cuba. Over the past year Russia has sent Cuba 1,000 minibuses, 50 locomotives, tens of thousands of tourists and a promise to upgrade the island’s power grid with a multimillion-dollar improvement plan.

Neither country provides many details about their improving relations, but Russian products being exported to Cuba include new-model Lada automobiles and Kamaz trucks. There’s a new Cuban-Russian joint venture to produce construction materials, and when Medvedev visited Cuba this month, he inaugurated a petroleum products plant and signed deals to repair three Soviet-era power plants.

As tourism from the U.S. slackens, Russian visits rose 30% in 2018, to 137,000. “Russia is trying to preserve the zone of influence it had during the era of the Soviet Union, looking for partners in Latin America and letting Washington know that it’s still a great power,” said Arturo López-Levy, a Cuban-born assistant professor of international relations and politics at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. “Cuba’s signing up for projects that can benefit it, and are already showing results on the island.”

Russia is making no secret of its desire to play reliable partner to an island facing hostility from the United States, including sanctions on ships bringing oil from Venezuela. “We did make huge mistakes in the 1990s while turning our backs on Cuba. That time is definitely over, and I’m absolutely sure that our relations deserve better attention from Russia,” said Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament.

“They deserve more investments from Russia both in terms of finances and equipment of course, but also human resources. And definitely we should assist, we should help, Cuba; we should support Cuba as long as it’s discriminated against, as long as it’s sanctioned, as long as it’s blockaded by the United States.”

During the 1960s, 1970s and ’80s, Cuba was filled with Soviet products and citizens, who worked alongside Cubans in chemical plants, mines and army bases. Moscow sent billions in aid before the fall of the Soviet Union caused a disastrous 30% drop in gross domestic product.

Cuba emerged with $35 billion in debt to the Soviet Union, 90 percent of which Russia forgave in 2014, an event that Cuban-Russian anthropologist Dmitri Prieto Samsónov called the start of the modern era of relations between the two countries.

“Russia started to think more about its business and government interests and a new relationship with Cuba emerged on the foundation of the old brotherly relations,” Prieto said.

Rodriguez reported from Havana.

Cuban evangelicals push back against gay marriage

February 01, 2019

HAVANA (AP) — A Cuban government push to legalize gay marriage has set off an unprecedented reaction from the island’s rapidly growing evangelical churches, whose members are expected to widely reject a state-proposed constitutional reform in a nationwide referendum this month.

The reform is almost certain to pass by a broad margin of Cuba’s 7 million voters – language opening the door to gay marriage is only one element of the reform – but the evangelical vote could shave hundreds of thousands of votes from its victory.

With many pastors promoting “no” votes from the pulpit, the swelling evangelical rejection of the constitution is a novel development for a state that prides itself on projecting an image of ideological unanimity. Cuban government-endorsed candidates and proposals typically receive ‘yes’ votes well above 90 percent.

Cuban assembly approves draft of new constitution

December 23, 2018

HAVANA (AP) — Cuba’s National Assembly on Saturday approved an update of the country’s constitution, the final step before a national referendum expected to approve the new charter in February. The new constitution contains more continuity than change, although it recognizes the de-facto modernization of Cuban society over the last decade. The constitution maintains Cuba as a centrally planned economy ruled by a single Communist Party, but recognizes private property for the first time and paves the way for a separate referendum on legalizing gay marriage.

It also creates the role of prime minister alongside the current president, as well as provincial governors. Legalizing private property is a formal recognition of significant change in Cuban society since former President Raul Castro permitted home and auto sales, creating a booming real-estate market, and allowed more than half a million Cubans have permits to work as entrepreneurs. Hundreds of thousands more work full or part-time in the private sector without licenses.

The new constitution also recognizes worker-owned cooperatives for the first time as a legal form of production in every sector of the economy, while maintaining Cuba’s largely inefficient and stagnant state-run industries as the central means of production.

Closing the National Assembly, President Miguel Diaz-Canel said the island’s economic challenges — including a weak 1.2 percent 2018 growth rate, and similar growth expected next year — required the acceptance of private business, joint public-private ventures and coops working together. He promised to fight widespread public-sector embezzlement and corruption that makes it virtually impossible to get anything done in Cuba without a series of small bribes.

“We’ve called a battle, and we’ll wage it, an ethical battle against corruption, illegality … and social indiscipline,” he said. The president also promised a more responsive government, part of an initiative that has seen almost all Cuba’s head of ministries start social-media accounts for the first time, some of which take questions from citizens.

“There are a lot of questions to pay attention and respond to,” Diaz-Canel said. “We’ll give responses to all of them as soon as it’s possible, and those that we don’t’ have an answer to for the moment, we’ll never stop searching.”

He did not mention Cuba’s unique two-currency system, which creates inefficiencies and distortions that are seen as one of the island’s most serious economic problems. Castro called monetary unification an urgent priority before stepping down in April, but the issue has barely been mentioned since Diaz-Canel took over.

The degree to which the new constitution will actually spur change is expected to be seen only after the National Assembly approves a raft of changes to the civil and penal codes and electoral laws next year.

Language seen as the immediate precursor to the legalization of gay marriage was eliminated after widespread public objection and protests by evangelical churches. Cuban officials say the question of gay marriage will be put to a nationwide referendum, something most gay activists oppose.

The constitution was drafted by a committee led by Castro, who is still Communist Party head. It was then subjected to months of public comment in workplaces and neighborhoods across the island. Some suggested changes were approved, others rejected.

As in virtually every vote in recent memory, the National Assembly unanimously approved the draft constitution.

Cuba’s Diaz-Canel receives Maduro in first act as president

April 21, 2018

HAVANA (AP) — Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel met with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro Saturday in his first official act as the country’s leader. Maduro is the first president to visit Diaz-Canel since he was selected by outgoing President Raul Castro to lead the island’s government earlier this week.

The Associated Press was told that Castro did not attend the welcome ceremony for the Venezuelan president at the Palace of the Revolution. But in a marked change from the past, Cuban first lady Lis Cuesta was in attendance along with Maduro’s wife Cilia Flores.

Cuba had no first lady during the nearly six decades that the Castro family was in power. Castro was a widower when he took office 12 years ago and his older brother Fidel carefully guarded his private life.

The Cuban government selected 58-year-old Diaz-Canel as the sole candidate to succeed Castro on Wednesday in a transition aimed at ensuring the continuity of the country’s single-party system. The 86-year-old Castro will remain head of the Communist Party, but it is not clear how much power he will wield.

The meeting between Maduro and Diaz-Canel affirms the strong alliance between Venezuela and Cuba, which in essence receives oil for Cuban doctors and technicians who work in public health in the South American country.

But former President Castro has acknowledged that the political and economic crisis in Venezuela is having a negative spillover effect on the island’s economy, and Cuba has sought to strengthen its alliance with China and Russia.

Official media have reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin called Castro and Diaz-Canel to affirm their shared interests, but did not offer further details. On Monday, Bolivian President Evo Morales is expected to greet Diaz-Canel in Cuba.

First clues emerge about Cuba’s future under new president

April 20, 2018

HAVANA (AP) — Miguel Diaz-Canel has been the presumptive next president of Cuba since 2013, when Raul Castro named the laconic former provincial official to the important post of first vice president and lauded him as “neither a novice nor an improviser,” high praise in a system dedicated to continuity over all.

Castro said nothing about how a young civilian from outside his family could lead the socialist nation that he and his older brother Fidel created from scratch and ruled with total control for nearly 60 years.

Exiles in Miami said Diaz-Canel would be a figurehead for continued Castro dominance. Cubans on the island speculated about a weak president sharing power with the head of the communist party, or maybe a newly created post of prime minister. No one who knew was talking. And no one who was talking knew.

The first clues to the mystery of Cuba’s future power structure were revealed early Thursday when Raul Castro handed the presidency to Diaz-Canel, who took office when the 604-member National Assembly said 603 of its members had approved the 57-year-old as the sole official candidate for the top government position.

With Castro watching from the audience, Diaz-Canel made clear that for the moment he would defer to the man who founded Cuba’s communist system along with his brother. Diaz-Canel said he would retain Castro’s Cabinet through at least July, when the National Assembly meets again.

“I confirm to this assembly that Raul Castro, as first secretary of the Communist Party, will lead the decisions about the future of the country,” Diaz-Canel said. “Cuba needs him, providing ideas and proposals for the revolutionary cause, orienting and alerting us about any error or deficiency, teaching us, and always ready to confront imperialism.”

Perhaps more importantly, Castro’s 90-minute valedictory speech offered his first clear plan for a president whom Castro seemed to envision as the heir to near-total control of the country’s political system, which in turn dominates virtually every aspect of life in Cuba. Castro said he foresees the white-haired electronics engineer serving two five-year terms as leader of the Cuban government, and taking the helm of the Communist Party, the country’s ultimate authority, also for two five-year terms, when Castro leaves the powerful position in 2021.

“From that point on, I will be just another soldier defending this revolution,” Castro said. The 86-year-old general broke frequently from his prepared remarks to joke and banter with officials on the dais in the National Assembly, saying he looked forward to having more time to travel the country.

State media struck a similar valedictory tone. The evening newscast played black-and-white footage of Castro as a young revolutionary, with the soundtrack of “The Last Mambi” a song that bids farewell to Castro as a public figure and was written by Raul Torres, a singer who composed a similar homage to Fidel Castro after the revolutionary leader’s death in 2016.

The plan laid out by Raul Castro on Thursday would leave Diaz-Canel as the dominant figure in Cuban politics until 2031. “The same thing we’re doing with him, he’ll have to do with his successor,” Castro said. “When his 10 years of service as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers are over, he’ll have three years as first secretary in order to facilitate the transition. This will help us avoid mistakes by his successor, until (Diaz-Canel) retires to take care of the grandchildren he will have then, if he doesn’t have them already, or his great-grandchildren.”

Diaz-Canel pledged that his priority would be preserving Cuba’s communist system while gradually reforming the economy and making the government more responsive to the people. “There’s no space here for a transition that ignores or destroys the legacy of so many years of struggle,” Diaz-Canel said.

Diaz-Canel said he would work to implement a long-term plan laid out by the National Assembly and Communist Party that would continue allowing the limited growth of private enterprises like restaurants and taxis, while leaving the economy’s most important sectors such as energy, mining, telecommunications, medical services and rum- and cigar-production in the hands of the state.

“The people have given this assembly the mandate to provide continuity to the Cuban Revolution during a crucial, historic moment that will be defined by all that we achieve in the advance of the modernization of our social and economic model,” Diaz-Canel said.

Cubans said they expected their new president to deliver improvements to the island’s economy, which remains stagnant and dominated by inefficient, unproductive state-run enterprises that are unable to provide salaries high enough to cover basic needs. The average monthly pay for state workers is roughly $30 a month.

“I hope that Diaz-Canel brings prosperity,” said Richard Perez, a souvenir salesman in Old Havana. “I want to see changes, above all economic changes allowing people to have their own businesses, without the state in charge of so many things.”

But in Miami, Cuban-Americans said they didn’t expect much from Diaz-Canel. “It’s a cosmetic change,” said Wilfredo Allen, a 66-year-old lawyer who left Cuba two years after the Castros’ 1959 revolution. “The reality is that Raul Castro is still controlling the Communist Party. We are very far from having a democratic Cuba.”

After formally taking over from his older brother Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro launched a series of reforms that led to a rapid expansion of Cuba’s private sector and burgeoning use of cellphones and the internet. Cuba today has a vibrant real estate market and one of the world’s fastest-growing airports. Tourism numbers have more than doubled since Castro and President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations in 2015, making Cuba a destination for nearly 5 million visitors a year, despite a plunge in relations under the Trump administration.

Castro’s moves to open the economy even further have largely been frozen or reversed as soon as they began to generate conspicuous displays of wealth by the new entrepreneurial class in a country officially dedicated to equality among its citizens. Foreign investment remains anemic and the island’s infrastructure is falling deeper into disrepair. The election of President Donald Trump dashed dreams of detente with the U.S., and after two decades of getting Venezuelan subsidies totaling more than $6 billion a year, Cuba’s patron has collapsed economically, with no replacement in the wings.

Castro’s inability or unwillingness to fix Cuba’s structural problems with deep and wide-ranging reforms has many wondering how a successor without Castro’s founding-father credentials will manage the country over the next five or 10 years.

“I want the country to advance,” said Susel Calzado, a 61-year-old economics professor. “We already have a plan laid out.” At the U.S. State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert expressed disappointment at the handover, saying Cuban citizens “had no real power to affect the outcome” of what she called the “undemocratic transition.”

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted at Castro that the U.S. won’t rest until Cuba “has free & fair elections, political prisoners are released & the people of Cuba are finally free!” Diaz-Canel first gained prominence in Villa Clara province as the top Communist Party official, a post equivalent to governor. People there describe him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services. He became higher education minister in 2009 before moving into the vice presidency.

In a video of a Communist Party meeting that inexplicably leaked to the public last year, Diaz-Canel expressed a series of orthodox positions that included somberly pledging to shutter some independent media and labeling some European embassies as outposts of foreign subversion.

But he has also defended academics and bloggers who became targets of hard-liners, leading some to describe him a potential advocate for greater openness in a system intolerant of virtually any criticism or dissent.

International observers and Cubans alike will be scrutinizing every move he makes in coming days and weeks.

Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report.

Raul Castro retires as Cuban president, outlines future

April 20, 2018

HAVANA (AP) — Raul Castro turned over Cuba’s presidency Thursday to a 57-year-old successor he said would hold power until 2031, a plan that would place the state the Castro brothers founded and ruled for 60 years in the hands of a Communist Party official little known to most on the island.

Castro’s 90-minute valedictory speech offered his first clear vision for the nation’s future power structure under new President Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez. Castro said he foresees the white-haired electronics engineer serving two five-year terms as leader of the Cuban government, and taking the helm of the Communist Party, the country’s ultimate authority, when Castro leaves the powerful position in 2021.

“From that point on, I will be just another soldier defending this revolution,” Castro said. The 86-year-old general broke frequently from his prepared remarks to joke and banter with officials on the dais in the National Assembly, saying he looked forward to having more time to travel the country.

In his own half-hour speech to the nation, Diaz-Canel pledged to preserve Cuba’s communist system while gradually reforming the economy and making the government more responsive to the people. “There’s no space here for a transition that ignores or destroys the legacy of so many years of struggle,” Diaz-Canel said. “For us, it’s totally clear that only the Communist Party of Cuba, the guiding force of society and the state, guarantees the unity of the nation of Cuba.”

Diaz-Canel said he would work to implement a long-term plan laid out by the National Assembly and communist party that would continue allowing the limited growth of private enterprises like restaurants and taxis, while leaving the economy’s most important sectors such as energy, mining, telecommunications, medical services and rum- and cigar-production in the hands of the state.

“The people have given this assembly the mandate to provide continuity to the Cuban Revolution during a crucial, historic moment that will be defined by all that we achieve in the advance of the modernization of our social and economic model,” Diaz-Canel said.

Cubans said they expected their new president to deliver improvements to the island’s economy, which remains stagnant and dominated by inefficient, unproductive state-run enterprises that are unable to provide salaries high enough to cover basic needs. The average monthly pay for state workers is roughly $30 a month, forcing many to steal from their workplaces and depend on remittances from relatives abroad.

“I hope that Diaz-Canel brings prosperity,” said Richard Perez, a souvenir salesman in Old Havana. “I want to see changes, above all economic changes allowing people to have their own businesses, without the state in charge of so many things.”

But in Miami, Cuban-Americans said they didn’t expect much from Diaz-Canel. “It’s a cosmetic change,” said Wilfredo Allen, a 66-year-old lawyer who left Cuba two years after the Castros’ 1959 revolution. “The reality is that Raul Castro is still controlling the Communist Party. We are very far from having a democratic Cuba.”

After formally taking over from his older brother Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro launched a series of reforms that led to a rapid expansion of Cuba’s private sector and burgeoning use of cellphones and the internet. Cuba today has a vibrant real estate market and one of the world’s fastest-growing airports. Tourism numbers have more than doubled since Castro and President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations in 2015, making Cuba a destination for nearly 5 million visitors a year, despite a plunge in relations under the Trump administration.

Castro’s moves to open the economy even further have largely been frozen or reversed as soon as they began to generate conspicuous displays of wealth by the new entrepreneurial class in a country officially dedicated to equality among its citizens. Foreign investment remains anemic and the island’s infrastructure is falling deeper into disrepair. The election of President Donald Trump dashed dreams of detente with the U.S., and after two decades of getting Venezuelan subsidies totaling more than $6 billion a year, Cuba’s patron has collapsed economically, with no replacement in the wings.

Castro’s inability or unwillingness to fix Cuba’s structural problems with deep and wide-ranging reforms has many wondering how a successor without Castro’s founding-father credentials will manage the country over the next five or 10 years.

“I want the country to advance,” said Susel Calzado, a 61-year-old economics professor. “We already have a plan laid out.” Most Cubans have known their new president as an uncharismatic figure who until recently maintained a public profile so low it was virtually nonexistent. Castro’s declaration Thursday that he saw Diaz-Canel in power for more than a decade was likely to resolve much of the uncertainty about the power the new president would wield inside the Cuban system.

“The same thing we’re doing with him, he’ll have to do with his successor,” Castro said. “When his 10 years of service as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers are over, he’ll have three years as first secretary in order to facilitate the transition. This will help us avoid mistakes by his successor, until (Diaz-Canel) retires to take care of the grandchildren he will have then, if he doesn’t have them already, or his great-grandchildren.”

Cuban state media said Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Diaz-Canel and thanked Castro for the many years of cooperation between the two countries, while Chinese President Xi Jinping also reaffirmed his country’s friendship with Cuba and expressed interest in deeper ties.

At the U.S. State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert expressed disappointment at the handover, saying Cuban citizens “had no real power to affect the outcome” of what she called the “undemocratic transition” that brought Diaz-Canal to the presidency.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted at Castro that the U.S. won’t rest until Cuba “has free & fair elections, political prisoners are released & the people of Cuba are finally free!” Diaz-Canel said his government would be willing to talk with the United States but rejected all demands for changes in the Cuban system.

With Castro watching from the audience, Diaz-Canel made clear that for the moment he would defer to the man who founded the Cuban communist system along with his brother Fidel. He said he would retain Castro’s cabinet through at least July, when the National Assembly meets again.

“I confirm to this assembly that Raul Castro, as first secretary of the Communist Party, will lead the decisions about the future of the country,” Diaz-Canel said. “Cuba needs him, providing ideas and proposals for the revolutionary cause, orienting and alerting us about any error or deficiency, teaching us, and always ready to confront imperialism.”

Diaz-Canel first gained prominence in central Villa Clara province as the top Communist Party official, a post equivalent to governor. People there describe him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services. He became higher education minister in 2009 before moving into the vice presidency.

In a video of a Communist Party meeting that inexplicably leaked to the public last year, Diaz-Canel expressed a series of orthodox positions that included somberly pledging to shutter some independent media and labeling some European embassies as outposts of foreign subversion.

But he has also defended academics and bloggers who became targets of hard-liners, leading some to describe him a potential advocate for greater openness in a system intolerant of virtually any criticism or dissent. International observers and Cubans alike will be scrutinizing every move he makes in coming days and weeks.

As in Cuba’s legislative elections, all of the leaders selected Wednesday were picked by a government-appointed commission. Ballots offered only the option of approval or disapproval and candidates generally receive more than 95 percent of the votes in their favor. Diaz-Canel was approved by 604 votes in the 605-member assembly. It was unclear if he had abstained or someone else had declined to endorse him.

The assembly also approved another six vice presidents of the Council of State, Cuba’s highest government body. Only one, 85-year-old Ramiro Valdes, was among the revolutionaries who fought with the Castros in the late 1950s in the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains.

Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report.

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