Raul Castro resigns, ending era of family rule over Cuba

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Raul Castro, first secretary of the Communist Party and former president, attends an opening session at the Convention Palace in Havana, Cuba on April 16, 2021.

HAVANA — Raul Castro said Friday he is resigning as head of Cuba’s Communist Party, ending an era of formal leadership by he and his brother Fidel Castro that began with the 1959 revolution.

The 89-year-old Castro made the announcement Friday in a speech at the opening of the Eighth congress of the ruling party, the only one allowed on the island.

He said he was retiring with the sense of having “fulfilled his mission and confident in the future of the fatherland.”

Castro didn’t say who he would endorse as his successor as first secretary of the Communist Party. But he previously indicated that he favors yielding control to 60-year-old Miguel Diaz-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.

His retirement means that for the first time in more than six decades Cubans won’t have a Castro formally guilding their affairs, and it comes at a difficult time, with many on the island anxious about what lies ahead.

Raul Castro, first secretary of the Communist Party and former president, attends an opening congress session at the Convention Palace in Havana, Cuba on April 16, 2021.
Ariel Ley Royero/ACN via AP

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 inequality.

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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.

Then-Cuban President Raul Castro commemorates the 59th anniversary of the attack of the Moncada barracks in 1953 in Guantanamo, Cuba on July 12, 2012.
Then-Cuban President Raul Castro commemorates the 59th anniversary of the attack of the Moncada barracks in 1953 in Guantanamo, Cuba on July 12, 2012.
Mambo photo/Getty Images

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.

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.

French President Francois Hollande welcomes Cuban President Raul Castro (left) at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, France on February 01, 2016.
French President Francois Hollande welcomes Cuban President Raul Castro (left) at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, France on February 01, 2016.
Chesnot/Getty Images

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 revolution.

Raul succeeded him as head of the party in 2011. Fidel Castro died in 2016



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