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(CNN)Here's a look at the life of Raúl Castro, former President of Cuba.PersonalBirth date: June 3, 1931Birth place: Birán, CubaBirth name: Raúl Modesto Castro RuzRead MoreFather: Ángel Castro, a wealthy Spanish landownerMother: Lina Ruz, a cook and maid to Angel Castro's first wifeMarriage: Vilma Espin (1959-2007, her death) Children: Mariela, Nilsa, Deborah and AlejandroEducation: Attended the University of HavanaTimeline1953 - Attempts, along with his older brother Fidel Castro, to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, after which both are sentenced to 15 years in prison. They are released less than two years later as part of an amnesty for political prisoners. Both go into exile in Mexico. January 1, 1959 - The Castros successfully overthrow the Batista government. January 1959 - Three weeks after taking power, Fidel Castro states that his brother is to be his successor, telling supporters, "Behind me are others more radical than I."October 1959 - Fidel appoints Raul to several prominent roles in his government including defense minister.April 1961 - Castro's troops defeat the CIA-led Bay of Pigs invasion. 1962 - Becomes deputy prime minister.July 1962 - Visits the Soviet Union and signs a draft treaty agreeing to allow Soviet nuclear missiles to be installed in Cuba. This development leads to the US-Cuban Missile crisis.1970s - Is involved in the military conflicts in Angola and Ethiopia. 1972 - Appointed first deputy prime minister (later called vice president).1991 - Helps Cuba navigate a severe financial crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union. October 1997 - Cuba's Communist Party officially designates Raul as Fidel's successor should he die or be unable to perform his duties. 2001 - In an interview with Cuban state television, Castro says he'd like to see Cuba improve its relationship with the United States: "I am among those who believe that it would be in imperialism's interest to try, with our irreconcilable differences, to normalize relations as much as possible during Fidel's life." July 31, 2006 - Fidel temporarily hands over power to Raul while undergoing intestinal surgery.February 19, 2008 - Fidel, in a letter, resigns from office. This paves the way for the National Assembly to select Raul as Cuba's new leader.February 24, 2008 - Castro is chosen by Cuba's National Assembly to be the country's new president.December 2008 - Makes first international trip as president, visiting Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez. March 2, 2009 - Reorganizes his Cabinet, replacing long-time aides to Fidel.April 6, 2009 - Meets with visiting members of the US Congressional Black Caucus.April 19, 2011 - Elected to succeed Fidel as first secretary of the Communist Party. March 2012 - Pope Benedict XVI visits Cuba and meets Castro. The pontiff prays for "those deprived of freedom" and talks about human rights throughout his tour of the country. February 24, 2013 - After being reelected by the National Assembly, Castro announces he will step down in 2018, at the end of his second five-year term. December 17, 2014 - Cuba and the United States announce plans to renew diplomatic relations after a half-century of tension. April 12, 2015 - Castro meets with US President Barack Obama during the Summit of the Americas in Panama. May 10, 2015 - Meets Pope Francis. They talk for 50 minutes at the Vatican. Castro thanks the Pope for facilitating talks between Cuba and the United States. He later says he may rejoin the Catholic Church.March 20-22, 2016 - During a historic trip to Cuba, Obama visits Castro to discuss human rights and ending the economic embargo. Obama is the first sitting president to visit Cuba since 1928, when Calvin Coolidge traveled to the island via boat. November 25, 2016 - Announces the death of Fidel.December 21, 2017 - Cuban officials announce that Castro will not retire as planned when his presidential term ends on February 24, 2018. Due to ongoing issues related to recovery from Hurricane Irma, the naming of Castro's successor will be delayed until April 19, 2018, according to Cuban state-run media. April 19, 2018 - Castro steps down as president of Cuba. After handing over the presidency to Miguel Díaz-Canel, Castro gives a speech at the Cuban National Assembly and says that presidential terms in Cuba should be limited to two 5-year terms. April 10, 2019 - Speaking at a government event to ratify a new constitution, Castro criticizes increased US sanctions against Cuba and its ally Venezuela.
News Source: CNN
Ukraine's Local Elections Test Leader and His Young Party
By YURAS KARMANAU, Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainians were voting Sunday in local elections that are considered a test for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a former comedian who took office last year vowing to bring peace, uproot endemic corruption and shore up a worsening economy.
Zelenskiy was elected president by a landslide in April 2019 after campaigning on promises to end fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in the country's east. Despite his lack of prior political experience, he quickly cemented his grip on power by calling a parliamentary election that resulted in his party winning a strong majority.
But Zelenskiy, 42, has seen his popularity dwindle steadily as living standards have continued to plummet, corruption has remained widespread and international efforts to negotiate a settlement to the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine have failed to yield tangible progress.
While the president's approval ratings are dropping, other political groups regrouped and worked to mount a challenge to his Servant of the People party, which was named after a popular TV series in which Zelenskiy played a school teacher who unexpectedly becomes president.
Opinion surveys have indicated that candidates from Zelenskiy's party will likely perform poorly in Sunday's local races for mayors and municipal councils across the country. Servant of the People's approval ratings were hovering around 16% heading into the election. During Ukraine's July 2019 parliamentary election, the party came out on top with 43% support.
“The time is working against the government, because a miracle promised by Zelenskiy never happened, and Ukrainians felt that they can’t live like in a TV series and have to further tighten their belts,” Tatiana Furs, a 58-year-old sales clerk said.
The parties of former President Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are expected to win most of the mayoral and council seats in the western part of the country. A pro-Russia party, Opposition Platform for Life, is positioned to make a strong showing in the mostly Russian-speaking east and south of Ukraine.
Balloting will not be held in areas of eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russia-backed separatists.
In a move widely seen as an attempt by Zelenskiy to shore up his sagging popularity, he coupled the local elections with a survey asking voters for their views on issues that include legalizing cannabis for medical use, introducing life sentences for corruption convictions and creating a free economic zone in the country's east.
“Zelenskiy is well aware of a sharp drop in the government's approval ratings and is trying to fix the situation by trying to attract the young and liberal voters to the polls with the question about cannabis,” said Vadim Karasev, an independent political expert based in Kyiv.
Zelenskiy says the survey results will help shape the government's agenda but many voters shrugged it off as irrelevant.
“Most Ukrainians may need cannabis to forget about the main problem — broad poverty,” Ihor Dryhailo, 48, an engineer in Kyiv who voted for Zelenskiy last year but expressed disappointment with his performance as president. “The government’s words differ from its deeds, and it has been unable to stop a majority of Ukrainians from sliding into poverty.”
Observers predicted political pressure will continue to mount on Zelenskiy after the municipal election, with political rivals likely to press for an early parliamentary vote.
“The local elections will set the stage for an attack on Zelenskiy from all sides,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, the director of Penta Center, an independent think tank. “The right-wing and the left-wing forces will rock the boat and try to provoke a new political crisis, seeking to at least challenge the parliament majority."
Zelenskiy also faces growing pressure from a one-time ally. Billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who owned the TV station that aired the sitcom that made Zelenskiy famous, hoped to have the 2016 nationalization of his PrivatBank reversed, but Zelenskiy has refused to overturn the decision.
“In retaliation, Kolomoyskyi began to methodically ruin Zelenskiy's majority in parliament, fielding several new parties," political expert Karasev said.
Karasev observed that recent decentralization efforts that gave broad authority to local mayors and councils would make the outcome of Sunday's local elections particularly significant.
“The results of the local elections could come as a cold shower for Zelenskiy, who will have to counter both the parties controlled by the oligarchs and the strengthening regional elites,” he said.
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