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Raul Castro says he will step down, marking end of an era for Cuba

Raul Castro says he will step down, marking end of an era for Cuba

dpa
Miami
Sixty-two years after leading a guerrilla army out of the mountain jungles of Cuba and helping his brother, Fidel Castro, impose communist rule over the island, Raul Castro on Friday said he will relinquish his hold on formal power in the nation’s affairs.
As has been widely expected, Raul Castro, 89, said he was stepping down as head of the Cuban Communist Party, the island’s dominant political force, during a subdued opening session of the body’s Eighth Congress in Havana.
In remarks during an address to delegates in Havana’s convention center, Raul Castro announced he would not seek to retain any high post in the party, though he stressed he would remain an active party member, according to sound and video excerpts and reports in official Cuban media.
“As far as I’m concerned, my task as first secretary to the central committee of the PCC ends with the satisfaction of having fulfilled my mission and the confidence in the future of the fatherland,” Raul Castro said.
He added: “I will continue participating as one more revolutionary combatant, willing to make my modest contribution until the end of my life.”
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel is the anticipated heir to Raul Castro’s role as the party’s first secretary, making the 60-year-old civilian the island’s most powerful figure - on paper at least. The conclave was not being broadcast live, but government-controlled media released video snippets and a synopsis of Raul Castro’s speech, without immediately acknowledging his announced intention to step down.
Raul Castro stressed the party conclave’s theme of “continuity,” according to the party website, declaring it was time for the regime’s last remaining “historic” leaders from revolutionary days to yield official power to a younger generation that can preserve and renew the Cuban Communist Party’s ideals.
“Nothing obligates me to make this decision,” he said. “I believe fervently ... in the understanding of my compatriots. And let no one doubt this: While I live I will be ready, with my feet in the stirrups, to defend the fatherland, the revolution and socialism.”
He noted the conclave was taking place almost precisely 60 years after Fidel Castro proclaimed the “socialist character” of the revolution following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. And while he called the US-backed invasion by Cuban exiles “terrorism,” he also made it clear the Cuban government is willing to seek better relations with the administration of President Joe Biden.
What effect if any the transition will have on US-Cuba relations is uncertain. Raul Castro’s signal accomplishment as president, the restoration of US-Cuba diplomatic relations, stagnated amid hardline intransigence in the Cuban regime and the Trump administration’s effective reversal of much of the renewal, including imposition of sanctions.
The Biden administration has signaled that relations with Cuba are not on the front burner. A senior administration official said on Friday afternoon that the White House had nothing substantive to say about Castro’s retirement.
“It is for the Cuban people to speak to the results of the party congress. The United States is focused on democracy, human rights, and empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future,” the official said.
“We are currently reviewing policy toward Cuba, and have nothing further to announce at this time.”
Raul Castro began positioning protege Diaz-Canel to fill his place in what’s regarded as Cuba’s top political job after ill health forced older brother Fidel Castro to resign as president and Communist Party head in 2011.
Raul Castro succeeded his brother in both posts, but gave up the presidential job in 2018, setting the stage for Diaz-Canel’s selection for a five-year term as president by the island’s popular assembly.

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