Cuban leader Raul Castro on Friday unexpectedly raised the possibility of leaving his post, saying he is old and has a right to retire. But he did not say when he might do so or if such a move was imminent.
Castro is scheduled to be sworn in to a new five-year term on Sunday. Castro said to listen to his speech that day, which he promised would be "interesting."
"I am going to be 82 years old," Castro said at a joint appearance with visiting Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. "I have the right to retire, don't you think?"
Castro's tone was light and his comments came in informal remarks to reporters at a mausoleum dedicated to soldiers from the former Soviet Union who have died around the world.
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The Cuban leader has spoken before of his desire to implement a two-term limit for all Cuban government positions, including the presidency. That has led many to speculate that this upcoming term would be his last. He would be 86 when the term ends in 2018.
"My sense is that he's going to say just that -- his next five-year term will be he last, opening the way to a new leadership and a new generation," said Jose Azel, a senior research associate at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.
Azel said his successors could include Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, Raul's second in command, and Ramiro Valdez.
"He (Ramiro Valdez) is a really vicious individual. He was in charge of security apparatus for a number of years," said Azel. "I wouldn't be surprised if we see in the next few years Raul Castro's son moving up, if we can speculate that Cuba will follow the North Korean model."
When Castro does leave the political stage, it would end more than a half century of unbroken rule by him and his brother Fidel, who came to power in 1959 at the head of a revolution against U.S. backed strongman Fulgencio Batista.
Relations with the United States have been sour since shortly after the two came to power. One of the key provisions of the 51-year U.S. economic embargo on Cuba stipulates that it cannot be lifted so long as either of the Castros is in power.
Raul Castro has implemented a series of economic and social reforms since taking over from his ailing brother in 2006, but the island is still ruled by one party. Fidel Castro is 86 and retired.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen issued a statement Friday, saying: “It's not a matter of if, but when, the Castro brothers ultimately vacate power – but the real change in Cuba involves much more than the Castro brothers. If dictator Raul Castro states that he will retire in five years, there will still be no real change for the Cuban people so long as the Castro brothers remain in any form of leadership position, even behind the scenes. The whole system crafted by the Castro brothers is corrupt and must be totally replaced. Shifting the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic won't produce positive changes. The U.S. should not change its policy of isolation of the Cuban regime until, according to US law, there are free, fair and internationally supervised elections, all the political prisoners are released and human rights are finally respected. The fact that this possible ‘retirement’ won't take effect for years is just another in a long line of false propaganda tactics used by the regime to trick the masses and international community. U.S. law states that no Castro may be in power, so this may be a ploy by the Cuban regime to attempt to normalize relations prematurely with the U.S. ”