Castro Regime Continues as Raul Takes Over

After a brief election, Raul Castro is elected as the new President of Cuba.

ByABC News
February 9, 2009, 3:21 PM

Feb. 24, 2008— -- The bulletin was broadcast on Cuban television this afternoon for the first time since most Cubans can remember, the country had chosen a new president and his name was not Fidel.

After a vote that lasted only a few short minutes, Raul Castro, Fidel's younger and less charismatic brother, was officially handed the seat of power. The government also installed a newly elected first vice president and other officials, all charged with maintaining the Castro regime.

In his first speech as president, Raul Castro assured the communist party faithful that he will remember his roots. "As I have mentioned many times before," he told party officials, "the commandant in chief of the Cuban revolution is only one. Fidel is Fidel. Everyone knows that. We cannot substitute Fidel."

On the streets of Havana, residents seem pleased with the handover. One man told ABC News producers in Havana that he was now "sure that the continuity of the revolution is guaranteed."

There are certainly high hopes for the new presidency in Cuba, and abroad. Many observers believe that Raul quietly favors the kind of economic and social reform that could lift the struggling Cuban economy, and possibly bring an end to the U.S. economic embargo.

But in Cuban newspapers this week, his ailing older brother dismissed any talk of change.

Alcibiades Hidalgo, a former chief of staff to Raul Castro, now living in Miami, believes Fidel will never truly retire. "Fidel will be opposing changes," he said, "until the day that he dies."

But Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, believes that change is definitely in the air. He told George Stephanopoulos, Sunday morning, that he supports opening talks with Raul Castro once Castro settles into office.

Biden called today's election a transition, "and so, we should be preparing what that transition is going to look like," he said. "We should be taking independent moves now, from establishing mail service, to allowing more frequent family members, etc., but not lifting the embargo until there is a response to political prisoners all the things that are wrong with this Castro administration."