Written by Maria Abi-Habib
Raul Castro announced Friday that he was handing over leadership of Cuba’s ruling Communist Party to a younger generation “full of passion and anti-imperialist spirit,” leaving the island nation without a Castro in a top leadership role for the first time in over 60 years.
Castro, who turns 90 in June, reiterated his long-anticipated intention to step down in a speech kicking off the Communist Party congress Friday. He is expected to formally step down and announce his replacement before the conference ends Monday.
After serving two terms as Cuba’s president, Castro stepped down from that office in 2018, replaced by his hand-picked successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez.
Cuba’s leadership will likely announce further reforms during the party congress, allowing for more free-market activity and reorienting the country’s economy further away from the austere, state-run model put in place after the revolution that brought Castro and his brother, Fidel Castro, to power in 1959.
The Communist Party has little choice but to reform or face rising discontent as Cuba faces its worst economic crisis since the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union. By ushering in a new, younger political class, Castro hopes to set the country on a course to fully embrace and implement the economic reforms he introduced in the years since Fidel Castro — the leader of the revolution — died five years ago.
Raul Castro is seen as more pragmatic than Fidel Castro, more willing to inch Cuba away from the communist model that his brother championed, which provided the country with major developmental successes, including high literacy rates and quality health care for all Cubans, but has left the economy in shambles.
Castro had announced in 2016 that he would give up his post as secretary-general of the Communist Party during this year’s party congress, in order to hand over power to a younger generation. The secretary-general is the most powerful position in Cuba, more powerful than the presidency, seen as the second most senior position.
Díaz-Canel will likely be elected as the new secretary-general of the Communist Party over the weekend, consolidating his leadership over Cuba. The two roles are often held by the same person, with Fidel Castro presiding over both positions for some 30 years.