Raúl Castro, first secretary of the Communist Party and former president of Cuba, greets members at the inaugural session of the VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, while Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, right, applauds at the Palacio de Convenciones, in La Havana, Cuba, on Friday, April 16, 2021. Photo: (Sipse)
Castro’s departure will be effective on Monday, April 19 at the close of the congress and when the new party authorities are elected.
HAVANA (April 17, 2021).- The Cuban leader and former president, Raúl Castro, announced this Friday that he is resigning as the top leader of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). His departure ends an era of formal Castro leadership since the triumph of the revolution in 1959.
“As for me, my task as the first secretary to the central committee of the Communist Party of Cuba concludes with the satisfaction of having fulfilled and the confidence in the future of the country,” he said during an opening report of the VIII Congress of the organization.
Castro, 89, assured that he made the decision “with the thoughtful conviction of not accepting a proposal to remain in the higher organs of the party organization, in whose ranks I will continue to be a revolutionary combatant.”
His departure will be effective on Monday, at the close of the congress and when the new party authorities are elected – the first and second secretaries, the Political Bureau, the Secretariat, and the Central Committee – which are expected to be headed by the current President Miguel Díaz -Canel.
Although the congress is held behind closed doors, part of Castro’s words, including those about his political future, was released on national television.
“Nothing, nothing, nothing forces me to make this decision … as long as I live I will be ready with my foot on the stirrup to defend the homeland, the revolution, and socialism with more force than ever. Long live free Cuba, long live Fidel, homeland or death, “said Castro, moved by the applause of his co-religionists.
A report from the official website Cubadebate indicated that the forum began in person at the Convention Palace in the capital despite the restrictions of the new coronavirus pandemic and the opening words were offered by the second secretary of the PCC, José Ramón Machado Ventura before Castro made his report and confirmed his subsequent absence.
The quinquennial meeting of Cuban communists will last until April 19 and, according to Cubadebate, it “will focus its gaze on core issues of the country’s political, economic and social life, among which the conceptualization of the economic and social model of development stands out. “.
In photographs released by the official Cuban News Agency and the party itself on social networks, it was possible to see Castro’s entrance to the compound dressed in an olive green uniform and by his side Díaz-Canel, on a stage where there is a red cloth and a giant poster with the faces of Cuban personalities such as José Martí, Julio Antonio Mella and Fidel Castro.
The news of Castro’s departure was expected by the population.
“We have to give way to young people,” Juana Busutil, a 64-year-old retiree, told The Associated Press when the announcement was confirmed, and for whom Castro “will continue to be the leader.”
For Miguel Rodríguez, a 58-year-old driver, it is clear that the successor will be the current president. “Every process has a continuity and I think that Díaz-Canel must already be there.”
The PCC, which was created in the 1960s and managed to unify several revolutionary groups that participated in the fight against dictator Fulgencio Batista, is the only one with legal status on the island.
Although it does not present candidates for elections or forms a government as such, with its 700,000 members, its role is inscribed in the Constitution as the institution in charge of directing the country and its society, which makes it an area with great power on the island.
After decades of having a highly centralized, socialist state – due to the influence of the Soviet Union – Cuba began a process of timid opening up to the private initiative and private entrepreneurship in 2010, during Castro’s mandate who succeeded his brother Fidel, who died on November 25, 2016.
The PCC endorsed the reforms, but the slowness of their application – for example, the absence of business law or legal status for small and medium-sized companies, the delay in monetary unification and an agricultural policy, among others – was attributed to the permanence of some nonagenarian leaders of the “historical generation”, more orthodox within the institution.
Cuba is suffering a deep economic crisis due to COVID-19; GDP decreased by 11% in 2020, aggravated by the US sanctions imposed by the United States, pressing for a change in the political system and the island’s own recognized inefficiencies.
The eventual successor announced by Castro himself in 2018 was Díaz-Canel, a 60-year-old engineer who had a long career as a communist militant since he was a young student. However, there is no foreseeable change in the single-party political model or an expansion of civil liberties such as association.
After the opening speeches, it was indicated that the hundreds of delegates began to work in three commissions.
In the first one headed by Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, the economic and social results from the VII Congress in 2016 will be analyzed; In the second, by Machado Ventura, the functioning of the party will be evaluated and the third, led by Díaz-Canel, will focus on the Union of Young Communists and the actions of government officials.
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