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These are the key players in Raúl Castro's inner circle

Cuban Colonel Alejandro Castro Espin, son of President Raul Castro, presents his book "Imperio del Terror" (Terror's Empire), on February 21, 2009 in Havana during the 18th Book Fair. AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)

Cuba's key players moving forward

Raúl Castro has reconfigured Cuba's socialist model and its geopolitical relations since he took over from his brother Fidel. But Raúl Castro has pledged to step down in 2018, and even those who track his circle closely are uncertain who will follow him in power. Here is a glance at some who will have a voice:

Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, 51

Raúl Castro's only son and personal adviser, Castro Espín is in charge of coordinating the military's and Interior Ministry's intelligence services. He has been increasingly visible, accompanying the Cuban leader during his meeting with President Barack Obama in Panama in April 2015, and is widely believed to have represented Cuba in secret negotiations with the United States. But though he has a doctorate in international relations, he is no dove: In 2009, he published Empire of Terror, a 300-page account of what he described as U.S. oppression.

Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas

As president of Gaesa, a holding company that controls the military's business interests, López-Callejas is one of the island's most powerful men. Analysts estimate that Gaesa's holdings — which include the two largest hotel and tourism groups as well as telecommunications concerns and gas stations — account for about 40 percent of the economy. He is the father of two of Castro's grandchildren, including Raúl Rodríguez Castro, the Cuban leader's bodyguard.

Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, 56

A former minister for higher education, he was appointed first vice-president in 2013 and is broadly seen as the president in waiting. Díaz-Canel has advocated a more critical official press and has connected with younger Cubans who crave better Internet access and more economic opportunities.

He often leads foreign delegations, but it is unclear how much sway he has with the military.

Mariela Castro Espín, 54

Raúl Castro's outspoken daughter is a sexologist who has fought successfully to expand gay rights. She became a member of the country's parliament in 2013, and her liberal bent and candor have led some in Cuba to wonder if she is destined for a greater role. In December 2013, she voted against a new labor law on the grounds that it did not go far enough to protect gay rights — an unheard-of act of rebellion in the legislature, which invariably votes unanimously.

Gen. Leopoldo Cintra Frías, 75

Cintra Frías, Cuba's minister of defense, joined the rebel army when he was 12. After the 1959 revolution, he studied military affairs in Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union and saw action in Angola and Ethiopia. Frank Mora, director of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University, says he is a "soldier's soldier," rather than one of the soldiers turned technocrats to whom Castro has entrusted the running of important economic interests.

José Ramón Machado Ventura, 86

Second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party and first vice president of the Council of State, Machado is a hard-line Communist and veteran of the revolution. In 2008, Castro picked Machado to be his second in command — a position he held until Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel succeeded him in 2013. He has been such a fixture at official events that some worry that his prominence represents a victory of orthodoxy over reform.

New York Times

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