The younger brother of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro has been approved as the country’s President by the National Assembly.

Fidel, 81, stepped down last week, but will remain as head of the Communist party and is expected to continue to have a strong influence on his brother.

“I assume the responsibility that has been given to me, with the conviction that I affirmed many times, that there is only one Commander and Chief of the Cuban revolution,” Raul Castro said.

“Fidel is Fidel.”

The 76-year-old had been Cuba’s acting president since Fidel fell ill in July 2006.

At a two-day discussion on homosexuality in Cuba held earlier this year in Madrid poet Leon de la Hoz said that many people on the island refer to Raul as “the little Chinese man with the sad eyes,” a reference to his supposed repressed homosexuality.

Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela, has said she wants to “enrich the Cuban Revolution” with her fight for equality between the sexes and gay rights.

The 45-year-old psychologist has been the director of the National Sex Education Centre since 2000.

Recently, she has been campaigning in defence of LGBT rights in Cuba, a task she describes as difficult due to the patriarchal society she lives in.

“I’m deeply sorry about what occurred in my country, about what occurred in the revolution, when the revolution has had a very strong orientation towards humanism,” she said in 2007.

Sexual diversity was seen by Fidel Castro as a corrupt consequence of capitalism.

Homosexual sex was partially decriminalised in Cuba in 1979 and an equal age of consent was introduced in 1992.

While social attitudes towards gay people are generally negative, the capital city Havana has a thriving gay scene but all gay rights organisations are banned.

Under Fidel Castro many gay men suffered in Cuban labour camps as the regime ‘re-educated’ homosexuals.

Gays were incarcerated in Military Units to Aid Production (UMAPs) between 1965 and 1968.

Castro believed that hard work would rid the men of their “counter-revolutionary tendencies.”

Now the Cuban Communist party is considering granting legal recognition to same-sex unions, as health officials prepare to authorise sex-change operations.

The proposed change to Cuban family law would put members of same-sex unions on a par with heterosexual couples.

Earlier this month the Cuban culture minister Abel Preito gave public support to gay marriage.

“I think that marriage between lesbians, between homosexuals can be perfectly approved and that in Cuba that wouldn’t cause an earthquake or anything like that,” said Mr Prieto, who is also a member of the powerful Politburo of the Communist party and the Council of State, the nation’s supreme governing body.