Raul Castro: I'm stepping down as Cuba's president on April 19

Raul Castro has led the country since taking over from his late brother, Fidel.

December 21, 2017, 7:15 PM

— -- Raul Castro will step down as Cuba's president on April 19, 2018, he announced Thursday during the National Assembly meeting in Havana.

Castro, 86, has led the country since 2006 after his brother, Fidel Castro, stepped down due to health issues. The younger Castro officially became the country's president in 2008. Fidel Castro died on Nov. 25, 2016, at the age of 90.

The Cuban Parliament approved on Thursday to extend the country's municipal elections to March and the presidential election to April. Hurricane Irma was the reason for the delay, the government said.

Raul Castro announced in 2013 that this would be his last five-year term as president. The Castro brothers fought alongside each other in the Cuban Revolution and have ruled the island since overthrowing dictator Fulgencio Batista on New Year's Day in 1959.

2018 will be the first year that the island has not had a Castro as president in nearly 60 years. Raul Castro's presumed successor is Miguel Diaz-Canel, the country's current vice president. The fact that a Castro will no longer be the country's president could result in a further opening with the U.S., as the Libertad Act of 1996, which strengthened the U.S. embargo against Cuba, lists as one of its requirements for a transition government that it "not include Fidel Castro and Raul Castro," among many other factors. Raul Castro will stay on as head of the Communist Party for the next few years.

PHOTO: Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez talks to journalists at a polling station in Havana, Cuba, after casting his vote, Nov. 26, 2017.
Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez talks to journalists at a polling station in Havana, Cuba, after casting his vote, Nov. 26, 2017.

Cubans began the political transition process in September when they nominated municipal representatives, "the first in a series of votes for local, provincial and, finally, national officials," The Associated Press reported. Cuba's national assembly is expected to pick the country's new president by February, according to the AP.

During his second term, President Obama worked with Raul Castro to thaw the historically chilly relations between the two countries. The U.S. and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations in 2014, which led to the reopening of their embassies and the lifting of some travel restrictions. The U.S. has maintained an embargo against Cuba in one form or another since the Eisenhower administration.

While Obama did not end the embargo -- which can only be done by Congress -- he did sign multiple bilateral agreements with Raul Castro on major issues including drug trafficking, maritime security and migration.

In June, President Trump announced that he would be "canceling" many of those changes during a speech in Miami. One of those changes was restricting Americans' travel to the country.

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