Castro era ending in Cuba as Raúl announces resignation
89-year-old handing leadership of country's Communist Party to younger generation
Raúl Castro confirmed he was handing over the leadership of Cuba's all-powerful Communist Party, ending an era of formal leadership by him and his brother, Fidel Castro, that began with the 1959 revolution.
Castro announced that he's handing leadership of the party over to a younger generation that he said is "full of passion and anti-imperialist spirit" at its congress that kicked off on Friday.
The 89-year-old didn't say who he would endorse as his successor as first secretary of the Communist Party. But he previously indicated that he favours yielding control to 60-year-old Miguel Díaz-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.
In a speech opening the four-day closed-door event, excerpts of which were broadcast on state television, Castro said he had the satisfaction of handing over the leadership to a group of party loyalists that had decades of experience working their way up the ranks.
"I believe fervently in the strength and exemplary nature and comprehension of my compatriots, and as long as I live I will be ready with my foot in the stirrups to defend the fatherland, the revolution and socialism," Castro told hundreds of party delegates gathered at a convention centre in Havana.
Echoes of 'Special Period'
His retirement means that for the first time in more than six decades Cubans won't have a Castro formally guiding their affairs, and it comes at a difficult time, with many on the island anxious about what lies ahead.
The COVID-19 pandemic, painful financial reforms and restrictions imposed by the Trump administration have battered the economy, which shrank 11 per cent 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 fuelled by the spread of the internet and growing inequality.
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, Diaz-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.
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 Raúl, who had fought alongside him during the revolution.
Raúl succeeded him as head of the party in 2011. Fidel Castro died in 2016.
With files from Reuters