By TIM PADGETT AND DOLLY MASCARENAS | Time.com
Raul Castro: Sunday’s session is his coming-out party as Fidel’s replacement as President of the Council of State, and perhaps also as President of the Council of Ministers (Cuba’s Prime Minister). But despite 49 years as Fidel’s No. 2 and military chief, Raul is a pragmatist who possesses none of his brother’s bearded magnetism. Forging a legitimate bond with Cuba’s 11 million people, as a result, is his toughest task — and how he orchestrates the new state hierarchy this weekend will be his first test.
Ramiro Valdes: Valdes is the most powerful Fidelista with whom Raul will have to deal. The 75-year-old former Interior Minister has been at Fidel’s side since the Cuban Revolution was launched in 1953. He and Raul do not see eye to eye regarding reform, but they have to work with each other. Valdes is the Information and Communications Minister, whose purview includes control of the Internet in Cuba — a fairly important job in any modern totalitarian state.
Carlos Lage: The pediatrician-turned-economist and a Vice President of the Council of State, he is the architect and ambassador of Raul’s more market-oriented economic blueprint. “He projects the image of a younger, more collegial, civilian and modern leadership,” says University of Miami Cuba expert Brian Latell, author of After Fidel. Widely expected to receive the Council of State’s First Vice President post.
Ricardo Alarcon: The leader of the National Assembly and former ambassador to the United Nations could be competition for Lage. But Alarcon’s stature took a significant hit this month when a video surfaced showing him flummoxed by a university student publicly hectoring him with questions about Cuba’s economic dysfunction. Alarcon may well be kicked upstairs to a largely ceremonial Vice President’s post.
General Abelardo Colome: A Council of State Vice President and Interior Minister, Colome, 68, is a military hero and Raul’s right-hand man. Like Valdes, he has served the Castro brothers since the early 1950s. Nicknamed “Furry,” he may replace Raul as Defense Minister.
Felipe Perez Roque: Cuba’s 42-year-old Foreign Minister is widely considered a Fidel pit bull — a leader of the young, ideologically zealous Fidelista cohort known as “los Taliban.” But Raul is said to distrust, if not dislike, the electrical engineer. Still, as one of Fidel’s favorites, Perez is likely to remain a player for now, and could win a Vice President’s spot.
General Alvaro Lopez Miera: Like Colome, the 63-year-old armed forces chief of staff Lopez is a fiercely loyal Raulista. He is also widely touted as the next Defense Minister, particularly since he’s relatively younger than other top generals.
Mariela Castro: Raul’s daughter, 45, heads the National Sex Education Center and is a strong proponent of social liberalization in Cuba — for example, she favors reversing the official harassment of homosexuals that her Uncle Fidel long condoned. She is considered a critical link to Cuban youth.
Colonel Luis Alberto Rodriguez: Also in his 40s, Rodriguez is Raul’s son-in-law (married to his eldest daughter Debora), and analysts believe he’s being groomed to eventually take over GAESA, Cuba’s multi-billion-dollar, military-run business conglomerate.
Abel Prieto: The popular, long-haired Culture Minister, 57, has positioned himself with Raul and become an outspoken backer of stepped-up public debate on Cuba’s political system. Another key ally in charisma-challenged Raul’s efforts to reach the island’s youth.
General Julio Casas: As Raul’s Defense Vice Minister, Casas, 72, runs GAESA, whose dealings with foreign investors have kept Cuba’s post-Cold War economy afloat. He’s Raul’s second-in-command, but is said to be ill, and will probably stay atop GAESA rather than take over the Defense Ministry.
General Ulises Rosales: Another loyal Raulista, Rosales, 65, heads the sugar industry, one of Cuba’s most vital operations. But he’s considered a longshot Defense Minister candidate.
Esteban Lazo: One of the few Afro-Cubans in the top echelon, despite the fact that Cuba’s black population is one of the revolution’s most loyal constituencies. Lazo, 63, is a Vice President responsible for education policy. Considered a favorite of the Castro brothers because of his peasant roots, he is one of six officials listed by Fidel in 2006 to be in line to succeed him; but he’s unlikely to rise much higher.
Jose Ramon Balaguer: A doctor who fought in the Sierra Maestra with the Castros in the 1950s, Balaguer, 75, is Health Minister and another of the six listed by Fidel. A Fidelista limited by his age.
Jose Ramon Machado: Even older than Balaguer, Machado, 77, a doctor and longtime Castro sidekick, shares education duties with Lazo and is another of the six listed by Fidel. (The other three are Lage, Perez and Francisco Soberon, below.) Part of Raul’s inner circle, but like Balaguer he may be too old to be a factor anymore.
Francisco Soberon: One of Lage’s most trusted fellow technocrats, Soberon, 63, is the Central Bank chief who in 2004 helped produced Cuba’s first fiscal surplus in decades.
Otto Rivero and Hassan Perez: Young Communist leaders (both in their 30s) who may be even more crucial bridges to Cuba’s youth than either Prieto or Mariela Castro. Fidel recently made Rivero a Council of State Vice President; Hassan Perez heads the University Students Federation. Their factional loyalties aren’t as clear; nor are the posts they’re likely to win from this National Assembly.
Jorge Bolanos: Cuba’s de facto ambassador to the U.S., Bolanos, 71, is thought to represent Raul’s less ideological foreign policy strategy — including hints at improving relations with Washington.
Fernando Remirez de Estenoz: Bolanos’s predecessor in the U.S. is a doctor who heads international relations for the powerful Central Committee of Cuba’s Communist Party. Speaks fluent English and, like Bolanos, is considered an important interlocutor with the U.S.