Xi Jinping Congratulates Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel

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Cuba swears in its new president on Thursday, with outgoing leader Raul Castro, 86, handing over power to his first vice-president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, 57.

For many Cubans, struggling with economic hardships and frustrated with the government's emphasis on continuity rather than change, the transition in leader is seen as unlikely to bring much beyond the symbolism of a new leader.

Cuba's President Raul Castro, center left, enters the National Assembly followed by his successor Miguel Diaz-Canel, center right, for the start of two-day legislative session in Havana, Wednesday, April 18, 2018.

During the recent years, Castro and Maduro, strengthened the union between Cuba and Venezuela, while consolidating and strengthening of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA-TCP) and the Community of States of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC) honoring the vision and legacy of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. He served as vice president for five years under Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, after Fidel handed over power to him due to poor health.

Castro spoke highly of Diaz-Canel and gave his blessing to the younger man to take over from him as the powerful head of the Communist Party in three years. People there describe him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services.

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Castro is handing the baton to his deputy at a time the United States is threatening to re-impose sanctions on Cuba, while the country's sole benefactor, Venezuela, is slowly drowning in a full-blown economic crisis. Diaz-Canel said concluding his speech.

He served as the minister of higher education before he was elected as the first vice president of the Council of State in 2013.

"I am here to work, not to make promises", he said.

Raul has been in power since 2006, when he took over after illness sidelined Fidel, who seized power in the revolution. Ballots offer only the option of approval or disapproval and candidates generally receive more than 95 percent of the votes in their favor. Only one, 85-year-old Ramiro Valdez, was among the revolutionaries who fought with the Castros in the late 1950s in the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains. Commentators on state television and online offered lengthy explanations of why Cuba's single-party politics and socialist economy are superior to multi-party democracy and free markets, and assured Cubans that no fundamental changes were occurring, despite some new faces at the top.

A stalwart of the ruling Communist Party, Diaz-Canel was sworn in to replace Raul Castro by the National Assembly in a new chapter for the Caribbean island but one that has been carefully managed and is aimed at preserving the political system.

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