Photo by Ismael Francisco/AFP/Getty images via the Guardian

First the pope, and now this:

Raul Castro has announced that he will step down as Cuba’s president in 2018 following a final five-year term.

On Sunday, shortly after he made the announcement in a nationally broadcast speech, the new parliament named a 52-year-old rising star to become his first vice president and most visible successor.

Miguel Diaz-Canel, a member of the political bureau, rose through the party ranks in the provinces to become the most visible possible successor to Castro. …

Diaz-Canel would succeed Castro if he cannot serve his full term.

Nearly everyone understands a Castro-less Cuba to be one of the preconditions for the normalizing of U.S.-Cuba relations — something expressly included in the half century-old embargo and something I’ve long supported. Without a Castro steering the ship, and possibly a young face at the helm, Washington would have to thaw its stance toward Havana lest the Americans come across as holding a grudge, opposing Cuba based on some archaic premise.

The whole capitalism-versus-socialism tug-o-war is so last week for many of today’s Cubans on and off the island. (Eighty percent of Cuba’s legislature was born after the revolution, and so were many of the Cubans of South Florida.)

Plus the general consensus among the people of my generation (the Millennials) seems to be that if Cuba wants socialism, Cuba should have socialism — but only if that decision is reached democratically. My beef with the Cuban government is not that it’s socialist, but that it’s a one-party, one-family system. (A Castro has been head of state since 1959.)

As most pro-democracy advocates, I’m anxious to see a Castro-less Cuba, and a young face at the top would be a refreshing sight should Diaz-Canel succeed Raúl. But the fact that Raúl tapped Diaz-Canel as his successor underscores the miserable reality that post-Castro Cuba will still be under the Castro shadow.

Diaz-Canel, a political unknown off the island, is recognized by Cubans as a party loyalist — a necessity for any aspiring Havana politico, but discouraging for any observer hoping that the post-Castro era would inject the reforms needed to materialize a thriving, 21st-century Cuba.

What remains to be seen — what can make or break Cuba’s future, and what we’ll only know after the Castro brothers have gone to the great commune in the sky — is whether Diaz-Canel and the soon-to-be leaders of his generation are equally pro-Castro.

Nevertheless, in the end it’s not democratic sentiment or a CIA-backed golpe that will usher in the post-Castro era, but time. Fidel and Raúl are just too damn old to continue leading the Cuban people with an iron fist. Even iron rusts and turns to dust eventually.

Raúl announcing his retirement is like Michael Jordan retiring from the Wizards.

It should’ve happened earlier.

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