Raul Castro's staunch ally sworn in as Cuban President

Angel Rodriguez Negron fills his gasoline container at a gas station while others line up behind him after a general power outage in San Juan Puerto Rico Wednesday

Cuban President Raul Castro (left) waves next to First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel (center) during a National Assembly session that will select Cuba's Council of State ahead of the naming of a new president, in Havana on April 18, 2018.

"The mandate given by the people to this legislature is to continue the Cuban revolution at this crucial historic moment, which will be marked by what we must do to implement the economic model" put in place by Castro, he said.

In remarks following the National Assembly's announcement, Diaz-Canel acknowledged that Raul Castro would remain as the head of the armed forces, which runs much of the Cuban economy and tourism industry.

Ramiro Valdes, 85, was proposed as one of the vice presidents in a significant move, thereby keeping in the future government a historical leader who fought in the liberation war along with the Castro brothers.

Diaz-Canel, a former electrical engineer, Education Minister and Vice President, replaces the 86-year-old Raul Castro who has held the position since 2008.

And he noted he would have Raul Castro as a guide - a nod to those veterans of the revolution with concerns that their socialist legacy may be buried by the tide of reform.

Diaz-Canel, who some say bears a passing resemblance to American actor Richard Gere, is a fan of The Beatles whose penchant for wearing jeans has set him apart in Havana's corridors of power.

The silver-haired Diaz-Canel, 57 - a top Communist Party figure who has served as first vice president since 2013 - will become the island's first leader born after the 1959 revolution, and the first in 60 years who is not named Castro.

Although Castro was elected a lawmaker, he won't be part of the Council of State.

Members of the National Assembly are expected to vote on this slate of candidates in a secret ballot later Wednesday and announce the results Thursday.

"The significance of this event can not be overstated". Ultimately, it "could have a profound impact on the direction of the country".

Legislators erupted in applause Wednesday morning as Castro entered the hall in a dark suit, accompanied by Miguel Diaz-Canel, his expected successor.

The National Assembly is meeting at a time when Cuba faces an array of challenges from a limping economy, a dismal sugar harvest, and the near collapse of its Venezuelan benefactor to a deteriorating relationship with the United States and a restive younger population that wants a better quality of life and more opportunities. Now the expansion of the private sector is on pause awaiting new regulations.

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