Cuba’s new parliament could reveal Castro’s political future

>HAVANA (AP) – The new parliament chosen by Cuban voters could ultimately send ailing 81-year-old Fidel Castro into permanent retirement.

As results came in Monday, there was no doubt that voters in Castro’s home district had re-elected him to the National Assembly, where he must hold a seat to be eligible to stay on as chief of the island’s governing body, the Council of State.

But it was less clear whether the assembly would choose Castro as council president when it convenes for the first time on Feb. 24, or whether the bearded revolutionary would step down after nearly 50 years at Cuba’s helm.

Castro provisionally ceded power to his younger brother Raúl in July 2006 following emergency intestinal surgeries, but remained head of the Council of State.

Cuban officials say they support his continuing in that role, but Castro has hinted at retirement without making his intentions clear.

In December, he wrote that he has no intention of clinging to power or standing in the way of a new generation of leaders. Last week, he said he was not well enough to speak to the voters in his district of Santiago.

“I do what I can: I write,” he said, sounding frustrated in an essay published by official news media.

On Sunday, Castro voted as he convalesced at an undisclosed location, one of more than 8.2 million people casting ballots – more than 95 percent of registered voters, officials said Monday.

They were voting for 614 candidates, all of whom ran unopposed for the rubber-stamp parliament, and all of whom were elected, according to a preliminary tally released Monday.

Cuba maintains that its balloting is more democratic than that of other countries because the candidates are chosen by municipal leaders nominated at neighborhood gatherings. Critics say the elections do not provide an opportunity for Cubans to decide how and by whom they will be governed.