HAVANA (AP) – Raul Castro has said he is stepping down as leader of the Cuban Communist Party, leaving the island without a Castro guiding affairs for the first time in more than six decades and handing control of the party to a young generation.
Castro, 89, made the announcement in a speech Friday at the opening of the ruling party’s eighth convention, the only one allowed on the island.
“I concluded my task as first secretary … with the satisfaction of having fulfilled (my duty) and confidence in the future of the motherland”, he declared in a typically concise and precise final which contrasted with the verbal enthusiast. pyrotechnics by his brother Fidel, who died in 2016.
Castro did not say who he would approve of as his successor as first secretary of the Communist Party. But he had previously indicated that he preferred to cede control to Miguel Díaz-Canel, 60, who succeeded him as president in 2018 and is the standard-bearer of a young generation of loyalists who have pushed for an economic opening without touch the one-party Cuba system.
“All the processes have continuity and I think Díaz-Canel should be here now,” said 58-year-old driver Miguel Rodríguez.
Castro’s retirement ends an era of formal leadership that began with his brother Fidel and the 1959 National Revolution.
“We must withdraw for the young,” said Juana Busutil, 64-year-old pensioner, for whom Castro “will continue to be the leader”.
The transition comes at a difficult time for Cuba, with many islanders worried about what lies ahead.
The coronavirus pandemic, painful financial reforms and restrictions imposed by the Trump administration have hit the economy, which shrank 11% last year following a collapse in tourism and remittances. Long queues and food shortages echoed the “special period” following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
The discontent has been fueled by the spread of the internet and growing inequalities.
Much of the debate in Cuba centers on the pace of reform, with many complaining that the so-called “historic generation” represented by Castro has been too slow to open up the economy.
In January, Díaz-Canel finally pulled the trigger on a plan approved two congresses ago to unify the island’s dual currency system, sparking fears of inflation. It has also opened the doors to a wider range of private businesses – a category long prohibited or strictly restricted – allowing Cubans to legally operate many kinds of stand-alone businesses from their homes.
This year’s congress is expected to focus on unfinished reforms aimed at reforming state-owned enterprises, attracting foreign investment, and providing greater legal protection for private business activities.
The Communist Party is made up of 700,000 militants and is charged in the Cuban constitution with directing the affairs of the nation and society.
Fidel Castro, who led the revolution that ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista from power in 1959, officially became party leader in 1965, about four years after officially embracing socialism.
He quickly absorbed the old party under his control and was the undisputed leader of the country until he fell ill in 2006 and 2008 passing the presidency to his younger brother Raul, who had fought alongside him during the revolution.
Raul succeeded him as party leader in 2011. Fidel Castro died in 2016
For most of his life Raul played the second chord on his brother Fidel – first as a guerrilla commander, later as a senior official in their socialist government. But for the past decade, it is Raul who has been the face of communist Cuba and its contempt for American efforts to overthrow its socialist system.
The fourth of seven children of a Spanish immigrant to eastern Cuba, Raul had joined his charismatic older brother in an almost suicidal attack on the Moncada military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago in 1953 and survived the crackdown that followed forces of dictator Fulgencio. Batista.
He led a major front in the ensuing guerrilla warfare, led by Fidel, which overthrew Batista. And he served for the next generation or two as the chief of the armed forces. For many years he was considered a more orthodox Communist than his brother.
But it was Raul who struck deals with US President Barack Obama in 2014 that created the biggest US opening to Cuba since the early 1960s – creating a wave of US contacts that has been largely reversed. under Obama’s successor Donald Trump.
“Nothing, nothing, nothing is forcing me to make this decision,” said Castro, part of Friday’s speech to closed Congress aired on state television. “As long as I live, I will be ready with my foot in the stirrup to defend the homeland, revolution and socialism with more force than ever.”