Cuba's labor force is shrinking just when President Raúl Castro's government is struggling to implement reforms that aim to resuscitate an economy long on life support.
MIAMI – After more than five decades in power, the Castro brothers may be making a long-awaited exit, and South Florida residents are reacting.
Raúl Castro made an eye-opening statement after his re-election. "In my case, regardless of the date in which the constitution is perfected, this will be my last term," he said Sunday, through a translator.
On the day he was sworn in for another term, the 81-year-old Cuban president announced he plans to call it quits in five years. This decision will put an end to the Castro reign and allow for new vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel to take over.
"The national assembly elected comrade Miguel Diaz-Canel, the first vice president of the council of state," said Raúl Castro.
Diaz-Canel is perceived as a rising star within the Communist Party. Unlike other high-ranking Cuban officials, 52-year-old Diaz-Canel did not participate in the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.
Still, the scheduled changes have not brought on optimism for Cuban-American experts and observers from South Florida. "That's five more years of misery, no freedom and democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, so let's hope that it's sooner than that," said Florida Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Local long-time observers of the Castro regime are not moved by the announcement.
"There's about 11 million Cubans who wish that both Raúl and his brother Fidel could have retired maybe 30 or 40 years ago," said Sebastian Arcos of Florida International University.
South Florida resident Rita Betancourt does not believe Raúl Castro will resign. "I think he will never retire. Maybe die first but not retire," she said.
Fidel Castro made a rare public appearance for the General Assembly. In power since overthrowing the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in 1959, he ruled the communist island until 2006, when his younger brother replaced him.
Raúl Castro will be 86 when he steps down in 2018.
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