Cuban parliament announces Raúl Castro will stay in power past February

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Cuban President Raúl Castro speaks during a Colombian ceasefire signing ceremony held in Havana on July 23, 2016. Photo by Yenny Muñoa/CubaMINREX.

The Cuban parliament decided on Thursday to extend the National Assembly session until April 19, which means Raúl Castro will not step down from the presidency on Feb. 24 as previously planned.

State-controlled media reported that the decision was made because damage from Hurricane Irma forced delays in the electoral cycle that was originally scheduled to end in February.

First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel is widely considered to be the most likely successor to Castro.

Castro’s transition is set to happen while the country deals with challenges such as decreased oil deliveries from Venezuela, low global prices for important commodity exports, and a partial rollback of the Obama administration’s Cuba opening.

The economy is also in need of a rejuvenation, though Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas announced on Thursday that the country rebounded from a recession this year. He said Cuba’s GDP grew by 1.6 percent in 2017, which is significantly higher than what many economists projected. He attributed the growth to strong performance in the construction, tourism, transportation, and agriculture sectors. Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz told lawmakers this week that Cuba welcomed more than 4.3 million tourists through November, marking a 19.7 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

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