December 21, 2012 in Nation/World

Alarcon apparently out as Cuba leader

Peter Orsi Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Cuba’s President Raul Castro, right, talks with Ricardo Alarcon, president of the National Assembly, during a session in Havana, Cuba, on Dec. 13.
(Full-size photo)

HAVANA – Cuban parliament President Ricardo Alarcon, one of the most influential people on the island and long its point man for U.S. affairs, will apparently be leaving the job he’s held for the last 19 years when the body reconvenes next year with new membership.

Alarcon’s name was absent from a list of candidates for the new legislature that was published Thursday in Communist Party newspaper Granma. Under the Cuban Constitution, the National Assembly chooses its president from among its ranks.

Alarcon, who has been parliament chief since 1993, is 75 years old, and President Raul Castro, himself 81, frequently speaks of a need to promote younger leaders.

“This looks to me like one more part of a move to replace people in their 70s and 80s with people in their 50s in the top jobs in government,” said Philip Peters, a Cuba analyst at the Lexington Institute.

Rumors have suggested as a possible successor Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, who last week was promoted to the Communist Party’s powerful Political Bureau.

Alarcon was Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations in 1966-1978 and 1990-1992, and served as vice president of the U.N. General Assembly.

Well-spoken and with a perfect command of English, for many years he has been Cuba’s go-to guy on U.S. relations. He represented Havana in talks with Washington, Cuba’s battle for the return of young raft boy Elian Gonzalez in 2000 and its campaign to demand the return of five Cuban intelligence agents serving long prison sentences in the U.S.

If a younger political leader steps into his job, it would be among the most high-profile replacements to date touching the “historic” generation that has surrounded Fidel and Raul Castro, in power since the 1959 revolution.

“Not so much because of the National Assembly job but because of who he is,” Peters said. “He was part of the revolutionary movement in the 1950s and became one of Cuba’s top diplomats and the pre-eminent expert on the United States, and was relied upon for many years for that.”

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