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Last Updated: Monday, 25 February 2008, 11:19 GMT
Cuba: Key government figures

As expected, Cuba's National Assembly on 24 February unanimously selected Raul Castro to be succeed his brother, Fidel, as the country's leader.

Here are short profiles of Raul Castro and key members of his government.

RAUL CASTRO

Raul Castro, 76, head of Cuba's armed forces for the past 50 years, had been standing in for the ailing Fidel for the past 18 months.

Raul Castro in 2002
Raul Castro helped Fidel plot the Cuban Revolution

Raul was officially designated Fidel Castro's successor at a Communist Party congress in October 1997.

He helped his brother Fidel plot the Cuban Revolution.

Some say that he has always been more of a hardliner than Fidel. In the first few months of the revolution, he was kept out of the limelight because his militancy was thought unpalatable.

However, analysts are divided about how radical a leader he might make now. Some see him as a transitional figure.

Raul suggested last year that a collective leadership would most probably govern Cuba after his brother's death.

JOSE RAMON MACHADO VENTURA

Contrary to some expectations, Raul Castro did not choose a younger member of the party to be his first vice-president, opting instead for the 77-year-old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, who has been described as a hardline communist ideologue and member of the old guard.

Dr Machado Ventura has long been seen as Raul Castro's right-hand man. Like Raul and Fidel, he was one of the original revolutionaries and was in charge of looking after the health of the rebel army

In the 1960s, he was Cuba's health minister. He has been a member of the Politburo since the 1970s and since August 2006 has been in charge of Cuba's national and international education projects, which involves integrating socialist ideas into school programmes.

The significance of his appointment as number two is hard to read. Some analysts say that if Dr Machado Ventura is in agreement with some reforms, this could mean Raul Castro has managed to build consensus on the way ahead.

However, observers say that he does not appeal to younger generations and his appointment as first vice-president does not settle the longer term question of who will lead Cuba in the years ahead.

CARLOS LAGE

Ahead of the National Assembly meeting, there had been much speculation that there would be a possible generational jump in leadership with Carlos Lage, a vice-president, regarded as a leading contender.

If you are going to move from the historic generation, then he is absolutely a logical choice
Prof Antoni Kapcia,
Nottingham University

In his letter announcing he was stepping down, Fidel Castro spoke of "the middle generation that learned together with us the elements of the complex, almost unknowable art of organising and directing a revolution".

That was interpreted by some as a hint of a new generation taking the reins of Cuban affairs.

Raul Castro's confirmation as president and his choice of Dr Machado Ventura as his deputy has put the block on such a change - for now.

It does seem clear that Mr Lage, 56, will continue to play an important role in the Cuban government.

A key economic adviser to Fidel Castro since the early 1990s, Mr Lage has been seen as a de facto prime minister with special responsibilities for the economy.

He is seen as both a trustworthy communist by hardliners and a pragmatist by reformers.

FELIPE PEREZ ROQUE

Another key figure, the 42-year-old foreign minister has long been seen as one of Fidel Castro's most loyal admirers in the government.

Fidel Castro's protege and former chief of staff, Mr Roque is remembered as the man who stepped in to calm the crowd when the president fainted at a rally in 2001.

He was Fidel Castro's trusted assistant for many years and knows him as well as anyone.

RAMIRO VALDES

Ramiro Valdes, 75, was made minister of information and communication two years ago. Commentators believe he will play a bigger role under Raul Castro's leadership.

A veteran of the Cuban revolution, Mr Valdes joined Fidel Castro's revolution at the age of 18 and organised youth brigades.

RICARDO ALARCON

Another member of Fidel Castro's inner circle, Ricardo Alarcon is president of Cuba's parliament, the National Assembly, and is well known beyond Cuba's shores.

Now 70, he was Cuba's long-time ambassador to the United States through much of the Cold War period.

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