A retiring Castro to bring younger face to Cuba's communists

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FILE - In this April 16, 2016 file photo, Cuba's President Raul Castro addresses the Cuban Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba. The VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, between April 16 and 19, 2021, could go down in history as the last with a member of the Castro family at the head, if Raul Castro fulfills his announcement to say goodbye as Secretary General. (Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate via AP File)

HAVANA – This week's Communist Party congress could be the last with a Castro at the helm of Cuba's all-powerful political institution.

Six years after the death of Fidel Castro, his brother and fellow leader of the island's 1959 revolution, Raul Castro, is being watched to see if he fulfills his commitment to give up the reins of the only political organization permitted in the country of 11 million people.

Raul Castro in 2016 said that he would give up the post of party secretary-general at the party's eighth congress, which is scheduled to begin Friday. Standing down would complete the move to turn control over to a younger generation of revolutionaries led by Miguel Díaz-Canel, who took over the presidency from Castro in 2018.

Many Cubans are anxious over the change after having their daily affairs guided for more than six decades by a Castro, and Raul Castro's expected exit from the political scene couldn’t come at a more difficult time.

The coronavirus pandemic, painful financial reforms and restrictions reimposed by the Trump administration have again brought food lines and shortages reminiscent of the “special period” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. But unlike past crisis that brought Cubans together, concern is on the rise, fueled by the spread of the Internet and growing inequality that has laid bare the socialist system’s failings.

“We’ve lost an entire decade,” said Alina Lopez, a Havana historian who runs a blog that is a forum for leftist criticism of the government. “They don’t how to bring real change because any change must start with a lot of self-critique.”

At the previous Communist Party congress, in 2016, Castro announced that owing to the “inexorable laws of life,” he would step down as first secretary-general of the Communist Party in 2021 and yield power to Diaz-Canel. Also expected to resign at the gathering is Castro’s deputy, 90-year-old José Ramón Machado.

That would potentially leave the 17-member Politburo for the first time without any veterans of the guerrilla insurgency, or what many Cubans affectionately refer to as the “historic generation.”