Raul Castro appointed largely 'old guard' politicians to Cuba's new government [AFP]

Raul Castro's election as president of Cuba on Sunday will make no improvement in the political situation in the country because the "old guard" remains firmly entrenched in the nation, the White House has said.

 
Castro, who was elected president by Cuba's national assembly to replace his ailing brother, Fidel, gave "no indication that the Cuban people are going to be allowed to pursue a free and prosperous future," said Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, on Monday.

"What we would hope is that they would be able to start on a path to democracy."
 
The US also said that its long-running trade embargo against the country would remain in place until more democratic reforms were made.
 
"There is not a contemplation here of changing that now [as the embargo] would simply enrich the elites and strengthen their grip," Perino said.
 
However, on Monday the European Commission said it was willing to engage in a "constructive political dialogue" with Castro.
 
'Smooth transition'
 
Fidel announced last week that he was stepping down as president of Cuba, after leading the country for almost 50 years.
 
The White House's comments were prompted by Castro's decision, shortly after he was elected, to appoint senior members of the assembly rather than younger politicians some analysts say would have created more significant political change.
 
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Cuba without Fidel

 

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Raul Castro

Raul Castro, who has been running a caretaker government since Fidel suffered ill health 19 months ago, appointed General Julio Casas Regueiro, 72, to his old position as head of the armed forces.
 
Another "old guard" leader, Jose Ramon Machado, 77, was selected as Cuban vice-president.
 
Machado, 77, a former health minister, is a founder of Cuba's Communist Party and head of the party's organisation since 1990.
 
However Carlos Lage, 56, seen by some as a leader of the younger generation, retained his post as one of several vice-presidents.
 
Mariana Sanchez, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Havana, says that the mix of politicians indicate a wish by Castro to ensure a smooth transition of power.
 
"No one has expectations of political change," she said.
 
"It will remain a socialist country but some things will move forward."
 
Irreplaceable
 
Raul has described his brother as "irreplaceable" but vowed to continue with his political work.
 
"His ideas always will be here," he said in his acceptance speech on Sunday.
 
Most Cubans have known no other political
leader apart from Fidel Castro [EPA]
"I accept the responsibility I have been given with the conviction I have repeated often - there is only one commander in chief of the Cuban revolution, Fidel is Fidel and we all know it well."
 
The national assembly also gave Raul permission to consult Fidel on major state matters.
 
In advance of a visit to Cuba, Louis Michel, the EU development and aid commissioner, said on Monday that Europe hoped to "improve and deepen co-operation issues of common interest such as the environment and climate change".
 
The EU had imposed political and diplomatic sanctions on Cuba after it sentenced 75 dissidents to lengthy prison terms and executed three young Cubans who had tried to flee to the US by boat.
 
However, the sanctions were suspended in January 2005 following the release of several dissidents, and Cuba wants to have them permanently lifted.
 
'Pragmatic' image
 
Raul is widely perceived by Cubans to be pragmatic and capable of implementing new measures which might alleviate some of the economic woes affecting Cubans, while keeping the country on a communist track.
 
"This is the best that could have happened to Cuba," Carlos Muguercia, a 78-year-old craftsman said, told the AFP news agency.
 
"Raul already knows the  situation. He knows how to solve problems, in any case the most serious ones."
 
However, others were less than enthusiastic, with one Cuban commentating that "Raul is Fidel without a beard".

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies