Raul Castro on Friday said that he will step down as head of Cuba’s Communist Party, ending an era of formal leadership that began with his brother Fidel Castro and the country’s 1959 revolution, the AP reported.
The retirement means that for the first time in more than six decades, Cubans will not have a Castro formally guiding their affairs. Fidel Castro, who led the revolution that brought down dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, formally became head of the Communist Party in 1965. He led the country until 2006 and handed over the presidency to Raul Castro in 2008 due to his bad health.
“Nothing, nothing, nothing is forcing me to make this decision,” said 89-year-old Raul Castro during his speech at the opening of the eighth congress of the ruling party in Havana on Friday. “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.”
He had already handed over the presidency in 2018 to protege Miguel Diaz-Canel, 60, who ran the party in two provinces before joining the national government, according to Reuters. Raul Castro himself became acting president when Fidel Castro fell ill in 2006, and party leader in 2011.
On Friday, Raul Castro, however, did not say who he would endorse as his successor as first secretary of the Communist Party. But he said that the new leadership would be party loyalists with decades of experience working their way up the ranks and who were “full of passion and anti-imperialist spirit”.
The transition comes as Cuba faces the worst economic crisis since the collapse of former benefactor the Soviet Union, according to Reuters. Cuba’s new leaders face pressure to speed up reform, particularly economic change, which is foremost on citizens’ minds, especially younger Cubans who, analysts say, “have known only crisis”.