Raul Castro resigns as leader of Cuba’s Communist Party

Raul Castro said on Friday that he was stepping down as head of Cuba’s Communist Party and ending a period of formal leadership by him and his brother Fidel Castro, which began with the 1959 revolution.

Castro announced Friday in a speech at the opening of the eighth congress of the ruling party, the only one allowed in Cuba.

Castro did not say who he would support as his successor as the Communist Party’s first secretary. But he previously hinted that he would favor giving control to 60-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, who succeeded him as president in 2018 and is the standard bearer for a younger generation of loyalists who have pushed for economic opening without touching Cuba’s one-party system.

His retirement means that for the first time in more than six decades, Cubans will not have a Castro who formally controls their affairs, and it comes at a difficult time, with many on the island worried about what to expect.

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The coronavirus pandemic, painful financial reforms and restrictions imposed by the Trump administration have hit the economy, which shrank 11% last year as a result of a collapse in tourism and remittances. Long queues and shortages have brought back echoes from the “special period” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Dissatisfaction has been driven by the proliferation of the internet and growing inequality.

Much of the debate in Cuba is focused on the pace of reform, and many complain that the so-called “historical generation” that Castro represents has been too slow to open up the economy.

In January, Diaz-Canel finally pulled the trigger on a plan that was approved two congresses ago to unite the island’s dual currency system, giving rise to fears of inflation. He also slammed the door to a wider range of private companies – a category that had long been banned or severely restricted – that allowed Cubans to legally run many kinds of self-employed businesses from their homes.

This year’s Congress is expected to focus on unfinished reforms to review state-owned enterprises, attract foreign investment and provide more legal protection for private businesses.

The Communist Party consists of 700,000 activists and has in Cuba’s constitution the task of governing the affairs of the nation and society.

Fidel Castro, who led the revolution that drove dictator Fulgencio Batista out of power in 1959, formally became party leader in 1965, about four years after adopting socialism.

He quickly absorbed the old party under his control and was the undisputed leader of the country until he fell ill in 2006 and in 2008 handed over the presidency to his younger brother Raul, who had fought with him during the revolution.

Raul succeeded him as party leader in 2011. Fidel Castro died in 2016.

(AP)