Cuban leader Fidel Castro who is recovering from a long illness was nominated Sunday for a seat in the National Assembly opening the way for him to resume governing.
Castro, 81, handed over power temporarily to his brother Raúl 16 months ago after life-threatening surgery and little has been known about him since. To formally remain president he must have a seat in the Parliament. To cries of "Viva Fidel!" municipal councilors from the city of Santiago raised their hands and unanimously approved Castro's name on a list of deputies to be put to the popular vote on January 20. Since 1976 Castro has represented Santiago, the cradle of his revolution. Castro turned the island into a communist state after taking power in a guerrilla uprising in 1959. Because of his illness last year he was forced to step aside for the first time since the revolution and allies say he was close to death at one point. But his condition has since improved and he is believed to remain a power behind the scenes. At its first session in March, the National Assembly must ratify Cuba's top political jobs on the 31-member executive Council of State, including the presidency, helping to settle speculation about Castro's future. Many Cubans expect Fidel Castro to retire to the role of elder statesman similar to that played in later life by China's Mao Zedong. Other Cubans hope Raúl Castro will be named successor so he can push through reforms to improve their standard of living. "I would vote with both hands for him to continue as president of the Council of State," National Assembly speaker Ricardo Alarcón was quoted in Havana. Castro has only appeared in official photographs and pre-taped videos, looking frail and greyer, and it is not clear whether he is strong enough to resume office. If he is too ill, the assembly could formally appoint Raúl Castro as successor. Cuba's tiny and splintered dissident groups are calling for political reforms in Cuba's one-party state so that leaders can be chosen in direct elections. Cuba watchers believe a stable quiet transfer of power to Raúl Castro has already taken place.