Era Ends as Raul Castro Steps Down 04/17 10:27
HAVANA (AP) -- Raul Castro said he is stepping down as Cuban Communist Party
leader, 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 younger
The 89-year-old Castro made the announcement in a speech Friday at the
opening of the eighth congress of the ruling party, the only one allowed on the
"I concluded my task as first secretary ... with the satisfaction of having
fulfilled (my duty) and confidence in the future of the fatherland," he said in
a typically terse, to-the-point finale that contrasted with the impassioned
verbal pyrotechnics of his brother Fidel, who died in 2016.
Castro didn't say who he would endorse as his successor as first secretary
of the Communist Party. But he previously indicated he favors yielding control
to 60-year-old Miguel Daz-Canel, who succeeded him as president in 2018 and is
the standard bearer of a younger generation of loyalists who have been pushing
an economic opening without touching Cuba's one-party system.
"All processes have a continuity and I think Daz-Canel should be there
now," said 58-year-old driver Miguel Rodrguez.
Castro's retirement ends an era of formal leadership that began with his
brother Fidel and country's 1959 revolution.
"One has to step aside for the young people," said 64-year-old retiree Juana
Busutil, for whom Castro "is going to continue being the leader."
The transition comes at a difficult time for Cuba, with many on the island
anxious about what lies ahead.
The coronavirus pandemic, painful financial reforms and restrictions imposed
by the Trump administration have battered the economy, which shrank 11% last
year as a result of a collapse in tourism and remittances. Long food lines and
shortages have brought back echoes of the "special period" that followed the
collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Discontent has been fueled by the spread of the internet and growing
Much of the debate inside Cuba is focused on the pace of reform, with many
complaining that the so-called "historic generation" represented by Castro has
been too slow to open the economy.
In January, Daz-Canel finally pulled the trigger on a plan approved two
congresses ago to unify the island's dual currency system, giving rise to fears
of inflation. He also threw the doors open to a broader range of private
enterprise -- a category long banned or tightly restricted -- permitting Cubans
to legally operate many sorts of self-run businesses from their homes.
This year's congress is expected to focus on unfinished reforms to overhaul
state-run enterprises, attract foreign investment and provide more legal
protection to private business activities.
The Communist Party is made up of 700,000 activists and is tasked in Cuba's
constitution with directing the affairs of the nation and society.
Fidel Castro, who led the revolution that drove dictator Fulgencio Batista
from power in 1959, formally became head of the party in 1965, about four years
after officially embracing socialism.
He quickly absorbed the old party under his control and was the country's
unquestioned leader until falling ill in 2006 and in 2008 handing over the
presidency to his younger brother Raul, who had fought alongside him during the
Raul succeeded him as head of the party in 2011. Fidel Castro died in 2016
For most of his life, Raul played second-string to his brother Fidel --
first as a guerrilla commander, later as a senior figure in their socialist
government. But for the past decade, it's Raul who has been the face of
communist Cuba and its defiance of U.S. efforts to oust its socialist system.
The fourth of seven children of a Spanish immigrant in eastern Cuba, Raul
had joined his charismatic older brother in a nearly suicidal attack on the
Moncada military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago in 1953 and survived
the crackdown that followed from the forces of dictator Fulgencio Batista.
He led a major front in the ensuing guerrilla war led by Fidel that toppled
Batista. And he served for the following generation or two as head of the armed
forces. For many years, he was considered a more orthodox communist than his
But it was Raul who reached accords with U.S. President Barack Obama in 2014
that created the most extensive U.S. opening to Cuba since the early 1960s --
creating a surge in contacts with the United States that was largely reversed
under Obama's successor, Donald Trump.
"Nothing, nothing, nothing is forcing me to make this decision," said
Castro, part of whose speech Friday to the closed Congress was aired on state
television. "As long as I live I will be ready with my foot in the stirrup to
defend the homeland, the revolution and socialism with more force than ever."