Castro era in Cuba to end as Raul confirms his retirement

By Monday, Cuba looks set to be without a Castro at the helm for the first time since Raúl and his brother Fidel swept down from the Sierra Maestra mountains in 1959, forcing the dictator Fulgencio Batista into exile.

One of the last surviving members of that “historic generation”, Raúl has said he will relinquish his post as the supremely powerful first secretary during the 8th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), which begins in Havana Friday.

It’s widely believed he will be replaced by 60-year-old Miguel Díaz-Canel, who in 2018 succeeded him into the slightly lesser role of president.

“No one knows what is coming,” says the Cuban-born historian Ada Ferrer, author of the forthcoming Cuba: An American History. “No one knows what it will be like not to have this Castro family dynamic at the heart of Cuba after 60 years.”

Raúl Castro assumed power in 2008 as his brother Fidel’s health failed, first as president, and then in 2011 as first secretary of the communist party. Until then, he had led the army, his brother’s most loyal and trusted enforcer and advisor.

Surprisingly for a man who, in the words of Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, “first moved to radicalise the Cuban revolution, perhaps even to influence Fidel to embrace Marxist Leninism”, he was reportedly far keener on market reforms than his brother.

As far back as the 1980s, according to defector Jesus Renzoli, Raúl’s secretary of 20 years, Raúl was pushing pro-market reforms in arguments with Fidel. Those beliefs came to fruition at the 6th party Congress in 2011, when 311 economic reforms were introduced, creating a new class of self-employed to fill the void as Raul began to shrink the state.Raúl also said in 2011 it was time for a new generation to take the revolution forward, introducing a two-term limit for the leadership. A new constitution was drafted and voted through in 2019. At first it seemed liberalising – introducing equal marriage – before that measure was beaten back under pressure from a newly empowered church.

The inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017 undermined Raúl’s most significant achievement, a detente with the Obama administration that brought a flood of US visitors. Trump retightened the 60-year-old American sanctions, before COVID-19 finished the job, effectively ending any tourism to the island.

According to the Cuban state’s own figures, the economy shrank by 11 percent in 2020, while imports fell by 40 percent.

Cuba’s failing farms can’t feed its population of 11 million, so queues of six hours and more have formed to buy chicken, medicines and other essentials. After Cuba’s health system managed to all but keep the virus out in 2020, numbers are now rising as COVID gained a foothold over Christmas.

 

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