Fidel Castro’s brother Raul, 89, relinquishes Cuban presidency to Miguel Diaz-Canel, 60


Cuba’s leadership is passing to a younger generation, with the final Castro leaving office and ending a 60-year family monopoly – but there is little other change as power remains firmly with the Communist Party.

At a four-day party congress starting on Friday, 89-year-old Raul Castro will relinquish the country’s most powerful position – that of party first secretary – to 60-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s president.

It officially ends six decades of the Castros dominating Cuban politics – first by Fidel, who ruled for nearly half a century from 1959 to 2006 and is widely revered as the country’s father and saviour, and subsequently his brother Raul.

However, some observers have already speculated that Raul is unlikely to completely relinquish his power and could continue to pull the strings from behind the scenes.

Raul Castro, 89, will relinquish power to the younger generation

Current President Miguel Diaz-Canel, 60, will take over leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba

Current President Miguel Diaz-Canel, 60, will take over leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba

 Cuba’s leadership is passing to a younger generation, 89-year-old Raul Castro will relinquish the country’s most powerful position – that of party first secretary – to 60-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s president

This officially ends six decades of dominion over Cuban politics by Castro and his brother Fidel (pictured), who ruled for nearly half a century from 1959 to 2006 and is widely revered as the country's father and saviour

This officially ends six decades of dominion over Cuban politics by Castro and his brother Fidel (pictured), who ruled for nearly half a century from 1959 to 2006 and is widely revered as the country's father and saviour

This officially ends six decades of dominion over Cuban politics by Castro and his brother Fidel (pictured), who ruled for nearly half a century from 1959 to 2006 and is widely revered as the country’s father and saviour

Diaz-Canel will be only the third-ever first secretary of the all-powerful Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), while still retaining the presidency.

He also becomes Cuba’s first civilian leader since the Castro-led revolution of the 1950s deposed dictator Fulgencio Batista, which happened before he was even born.

But while the suit-and-tie wearing, tech-savvy Beatles fan may be more modern in some ways than his predecessors – both of whom were fond of donning military garb – he remains first and foremost a party disciple. 

‘He is part of the political struggle, the ideological struggle,’ said Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban diplomat.

‘The absence of a Castro at the helm doesn’t necessarily mean there’s going to be an abrupt change in the Communist party’s style,’ added Norman McKay, an analyst with The Economist Intelligence Unit.

Diaz-Canel will be only the third-ever first secretary of the all-powerful Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), while still retaining the presidency

Diaz-Canel will be only the third-ever first secretary of the all-powerful Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), while still retaining the presidency

Diaz-Canel will be only the third-ever first secretary of the all-powerful Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), while still retaining the presidency

Diaz-Canel will take over from Raul Castro who had ruled Cuba since taking over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008

Diaz-Canel will take over from Raul Castro who had ruled Cuba since taking over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008

Diaz-Canel will take over from Raul Castro who had ruled Cuba since taking over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008

A new constitution passed in May 2019 made it clear that the country’s commitment to socialism was ‘irrevocable.’

Yet many Cubans pay little heed to politics, preoccupied as they are by the worst economic crisis in 30 years, sky-high inflation, biting food shortages, snaking queues for basic necessities and limited freedoms.

‘I hope the congress will lead to an improvement because the prices are too high,’ said pensioner Maria Martinez, 68.

‘There is nothing to hope for,’ added Sergio, a 44-year-old cook who declined to give his full name in a country where speaking out against the government can land you in trouble.

‘Salaries are a problem, they are not enough. There are problems with food, the lines are long,’ he said.

Diaz-Canel also becomes Cuba's first civilian leader since the Castro-led revolution of the 1950s, which happened before he was even born

Diaz-Canel also becomes Cuba's first civilian leader since the Castro-led revolution of the 1950s, which happened before he was even born

Diaz-Canel also becomes Cuba’s first civilian leader since the Castro-led revolution of the 1950s, which happened before he was even born

Miguel Diaz-Canel: ‘Ruthless’ leader who swore to defend Cuba’s socialist revolution 

Miguel Diaz-Canel, 60, is a Cuban politician who has served as the country’s president since October 2019. 

He will become the leader of the Communist Party of Cuba in April 2021, when Raul Castro steps down. 

Diaz-Canel has been rising through party ranks for more than 30 years and had a reputation as a meek, orderly man, until 2017 when footage ‘leaked’ of him launching a ruthless verbal assault on dissident Cubans and the US.  

He gained prominence in central Villa Clara province as the top Communist Party official, a post equivalent to governor.

People there describe him as a hard-working, modest-living technocrat dedicated to improving public services.

He became higher education minister in 2009 before moving to the vice presidency. 

He has been a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Cuba since 2003.    

Cuba’s economic crisis is caused in part by its own management failures, worsened by US sanctions ramped up under Donald Trump and the coronavirus pandemic, which dried up tourists – a key income source for the island.

The economy plummeted by 11 per cent in 2020, the worst decline since 1993 in the country of 11.2 million.

Economic reforms to phase out the US dollar-pinned ‘convertible’ peso, leaving only the less valuable official peso in place, saw salaries increased by the state, but not enough to make up for the resulting price inflation.

Many stores now accept only US dollars and these are better stocked than others, but few people can afford to frequent them.

The PCC has said its congress would ‘review core issues of the political, economic and social life of the country.’ 

There are signs that Cuba’s leadership will have little choice but to increasingly balance the interests of the old guard with a clamour for more rights and better quality of life from younger generations.

In February, it opened the bulk of its government-monopolised economy to entrepreneurs in the private sector.

There have also been small nods to social liberalisation by Havana, under sanctions from the United States since 1962.

In recent months, the government held its first-ever talks – though short-lived – with pro-free speech protesters, after authorising Cuba’s first non-political demonstration, by animal rights activists, in 2019.

‘Raul Castro stepping down as head of the Communist Party in #Cuba isn’t real change,’ tweeted US senator Marco Rubio, who is of Cuban origin. ‘But real change is already underway nonetheless.’ 

The arrival of the internet on mobile phones at the end of 2018 has made for a paradigm shift in Cuba, with never-before-seen access to information and new forums for expression. 

Raul Castro will officially hand over the leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba to Miguel Diaz-Canel during the Congress

Raul Castro will officially hand over the leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba to Miguel Diaz-Canel during the Congress

Raul Castro will officially hand over the leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba to Miguel Diaz-Canel during the Congress

Cuba in crisis? How the country is facing debilitating economic woes

Raul Castro’s decision to hand over leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) comes as the country is facing a debilitating economic crisis, growing dissent, and struggling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The country has been devastated by the loss of tourism, as the pandemic all but shut down global travel, causing the economy to shrink by 11 per cent in 2020.

Economic reforms to phase out the US dollar-pinned ‘convertible’ peso, leaving only the less valuable official peso in place, saw salaries increased by the state, but not enough to make up for the resulting price inflation.

Many stores now accept only US dollars and these are better stocked than others, but few people can afford to frequent them.

Cuba is currently holding its VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba being held between April 16 and April 19

Cuba is currently holding its VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba being held between April 16 and April 19

Cuba is currently holding its VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba being held between April 16 and April 19

A liquidity crisis, exacerbated by a tightening of decades-old US sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic, has also created widespread shortages of basic goods, including food and medicine. 

The crisis has pushed the government to resume economic reforms, most notably a painful monetary overhaul, but the pace of change is extremely slow.  

Discontent over the island nation’s stagnant economy has been brewing for years, especially among younger Cubans, and the advent of mobile internet has made it increasingly easy for residents to organise protests.   

Cuba has also struggled with a surge in Covid-19 cases in early 2021, recording after managing to keep the virus at bay through 2020.  

Last year, the country was hailed for its high number doctors, dubbed the ‘white coat army’, who were sent out to assist domestic populations in more than 40 countries worldwide. 

However, the government failed to secure vaccine contracts in 2021 and is still conducting trials on five potential jabs developed domestically before an official roll out. 

People are even organising demonstrations in a country where protests are rare.

In response, the PCC has said its congress would be ‘confronting political and ideological subversion, which has made internet and social media its principal field of operations.’

Control over information has always been a key tool of PCC rule. 

Castro has said he plans to read and take care of his grandchildren after retiring. But there are those who think he may hover in the background.

‘Raul will be there,’ said former diplomat Alzugaray, in a system that may resemble ‘the one in China when Deng Xiaoping had no position but… everything had to be discussed with him. He had the last word.’

The reign of the Castros: How brothers Fidel and Raul led a revolution and controlled Cuba for decades

As Raul Castro passes the leadership of the PCC on to President Miguel Diaz-Canel, it marks the end of the reign of Castros at the helm of politics in Cuba.

Raul became the first secretary in 1965, when his older brother, Fidel Castro, founded the party.  

The brothers overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, were exiled in Mexico and survived a disastrous start to their rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana on January 1959.

The brothers overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, were exiled in Mexico and survived a disastrous start to their rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana on January 1959

The brothers overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, were exiled in Mexico and survived a disastrous start to their rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana on January 1959

The brothers overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, were exiled in Mexico and survived a disastrous start to their rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana on January 1959

At age 32, Fidel became the youngest leader in Latin America and put his younger brother Raul in charge of the armed forces

At age 32, Fidel became the youngest leader in Latin America and put his younger brother Raul in charge of the armed forces

At age 32, Fidel became the youngest leader in Latin America and put his younger brother Raul in charge of the armed forces

At age 32, Fidel became the youngest leader in Latin America and put his younger brother Raul in charge of the armed forces.

Despite initial setbacks, the bearded guerrillas, operating in the eastern mountains, steadily gained support across the country.

On January 1, 1959, Batista fled and Fidel became the unquestioned leader of Cuba, with his younger brother put in charge of the armed forces.

Fidel’s government initially executed or imprisoned many foes, and veered to Soviet-backed socialism in the early 1960s.

Cuba backed revolutions across Latin America, and while most of those failed, the Castros’ resistance to U.S. domination inspired millions across the continent and beyond.

Cuba backed revolutions across Latin America, and while most of those failed, the Castros' resistance to U.S. domination inspired millions across the continent and beyond (pictured, Castro with Commanders Antonio Nunez Jimenez, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Juan Almeida and Ramiro Valdes in Havana)

Cuba backed revolutions across Latin America, and while most of those failed, the Castros' resistance to U.S. domination inspired millions across the continent and beyond (pictured, Castro with Commanders Antonio Nunez Jimenez, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Juan Almeida and Ramiro Valdes in Havana)

Cuba backed revolutions across Latin America, and while most of those failed, the Castros’ resistance to U.S. domination inspired millions across the continent and beyond (pictured, Castro with Commanders Antonio Nunez Jimenez, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Juan Almeida and Ramiro Valdes in Havana)

Fidel’s control survived repeated U.S. plots to overthrow or kill him, and even the hardships that followed the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which had kept the island’s economy afloat.

But illness finally forced Fidel to turn over power in 2006 to Raul, who formally became president two years later.

Raul announced that he will step aside as president in April – though he plans to remain in what is probably a more important position: head of Cuba’s lone permitted party, the Communist Party.



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