Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fidel Castro officially hands reins of the Communist Party over to his brother

Fidel Castro, left, raises his brother’s hand, Cuba’s President Raul Castro, center, as they sing the international socialist anthem during the 6th Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday April 19, 2011. Raul Castro was named first secretary of Cuba’s Communist Party on Tuesday, with Fidel not included in the leadership for the first time since the party’s creation 46 years ago.

Raúl Castro talked of young leadership but stuck with the old guard Tuesday as Cuba’s Communist Party ended its first Congress in 14 years.

Fidel Castro attends party Congress as old guard remains in place | Apr 19, 2011

By Juan O. Tamayo
An almost ghost-like Fidel Castro attended the closing of a Communist Party conclave Tuesday that marked the formal end of his era and endorsed key economic reforms — but dashed hopes for a younger leadership amid a sea of white hair.

The 84-year-old Castro smiled, clapped and nodded but remained silent as his brother Raúl replaced him as the party’s first secretary and warned that while the reforms are critically needed, they will bring hardships.

While the party’s first Congress in 14 years renovated about half the membership of its ruling Politburo and the broader Central Committee, there was no sign of the generational change in leadership that many Cubans had hoped for.

Replacing the 79-year-old Raúl as second secretary was Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 80 years old and a long-time party functionary. Named as the party’s No. 3 was Ramiro Valdes, a reputed hardliner who is 79 years old.

The new leadership appeared no more likely than the old one to successfully manage tough reforms needed to resuscitate a stagnant economy by allowing more private enterprise and giving more autonomy to state enterprises, among other changes.

But Raúl’s promotion clearly represented the official end of the Fidel Era. The leader of the 1959 revolution surrendered the presidency of the government in 2008 because of ill health, and after Tuesday holds only honorary titles such as comandante.

Tears streamed down the cheeks of delegates to the VI Communist Party Congress as Fidel entered the Havana hall and acknowledged the long applause from a party that he led since its foundation in 1965.
Wearing a blue track suit, he needed help walking and stood but did not join in as the 1,000 delegates closed the Congress by singing the party’s anthem. The Castro brothers then joined hands and raised their arms in a salute to the audience as they walked out.

They left behind a Politburo and Central Committee whose new membership left no doubt that the revolution’s old guard remains in control of the party, which the Cuban Constitution in essence makes more powerful than the government.

Popular blogger Yoani Sanchez took to Twitter as the new leadership was being announced, noting that Machado Ventura’s election “is evidence of the absence of a young relief generation, the failure of the succession.”

The Politburo was cut from 24 to 15 members — average age 68 — including 12 incumbents. The new members include two men in their early 50s who play key roles in the reforms: former Economic Minister Mariano Murillo, promoted last month as the party’s economic “tsar”, and his replacement in the government, Adel Izquierdo Rodriguez. The third was Mercedes Lopez, 45, party chief in Havana province, who replaced another woman.

Half the 12 were generals from the armed forces and Interior Ministry who are known friends of Raúl, who was Defense Minister for 48 years. Havana dissident and former MiG pilot Vladimiro Roca called it “the militarization of the Politburo.”

Raúl Castro also announced that about half of the Central Committee’s 115 members were changed. Twenty one of its members are generals or admirals.

Among the newcomers was his son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, who runs the military’s many and rich business enterprises. Not on the list was his son, Col. Alejandro Castro Espin, who serves as his top adviser on national security and heads a powerful anti-corruption unit.
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