Mon Feb 28, 2011 3:04pm EST
HOLGUIN, Cuba (Reuters) - The Cuban Communist Party has moved forward
the election of new leadership to a congress in April where longtime
party leader Fidel Castro is expected to step down, sources close to the
party said over the weekend.
Castro, 84, previously handed over most of the responsibilities as first
secretary but kept the title. His official departure from his last
leadership position would be a symbolically important step toward a new
era for the island he ruled for 49 years.
President Raul Castro, as second secretary of the Communist Party, is in
line to succeed his older brother as its top leader, just as he did when
Fidel Castro resigned the presidency in February 2008.
But because there are currently no other Castro family members in
leading positions, the second secretary spot likely will be filled by
someone without Castro as a last name for the first time since the party
was created in 1965.
As first and second secretaries, the Castro brothers lead the party's
guiding Central Committee, for which elections originally were expected
to be held at a party conference at the end of this year. But the vote
has been moved to April because party statutes say it must be done at a
formal congress, sources said.
The Central Committee chooses the party's powerful Political Bureau and
its executive Secretariat, where numerous changes are also expected,
Governments, Cuba watchers and the local population hope changes in the
top party ranks will shed light on who might replace the Castro brothers
and other aging leaders who first came to power in the 1959 revolution
in which Fidel Castro took over the Caribbean island.
At stake is the future leadership of the country as it undergoes
important economic reforms that President Castro, 79, says are necessary
to keep the communist system alive.
MODERNIZE THE ECONOMY
He has said that the primary task of the April congress, the first since
1997, is to officially adopt reforms that modernize Cuba's Soviet-style
economy. The Communist Party is the only legal political party in Cuba
and the country's constitution says it is "the highest directing force
of the society and state."
Despite widespread expectation that he will resign, Fidel Castro, who
has been in the background since he was stricken with an intestinal
disorder in July 2006, still has supporters who think he should stay as
Both he and Raul Castro are among those who have been nominated in the
local party elections.
"There are many people in the party who want Fidel to continue on, but I
think in the end some sort of new position will be created for him," one
party insider said, asking his name not be used.
The 2006 illness required emergency surgery and led to complications
that Castro has said nearly killed him.
When he resigned as president, Fidel Castro said he was no longer in
condition to run the daily affairs of the country.
But he regularly writes columns for local media and the Internet and is
consulted on important matters of state. He is still a member of Cuba's
parliament, but has not attended its twice-yearly meetings since falling
After four years out of public view, he reappeared last summer and since
then has held sporadic public encounters with groups of local
professionals and visitors, videos of which are sometimes broadcast by
(Editing by Jeff Franks and Cynthia Osterman)