Saturday, April 23, 2011

Castro hails 'new generation' of Cuba leaders, but appoints old guard

Castro hails 'new generation' of Cuba leaders, but appoints old guard

José Ramón Machado Ventura, 80, will fill Raul Castro's old spot as No.
2 in power, while Ramiro Valdes will take over the No. 3 role. Both have
collaborated with the Fidel and Raul Castro since at least the 1950s.

By Sara Miller Llana, Staff writer / April 20, 2011
Mexico City

The theme of the Sixth Party Congress in Cuba seemed clear enough:
President Raul Castro opened the summit Saturday saying that a new
generation of Cuban politicians was needed to secure the socialist

Even former Cuban leader Fidel Castro seemed to embrace the message.
"The new generation is called to rectify and change without hesitation
all that must be rectified and changed," he wrote in the state newspaper

But by the time the Congress wrapped up Tuesday, new leaders were named
to the Communist Party, and none of the top three positions went to
anyone younger than 78, leaving the old guard in power and frustrating
those Cubans eager for a political shakeup.

IN PICTURES: Cuba's underground economy

"Raul Castro was saying they needed to bring in new leadership, bring
the new generation forward," says Wayne Smith, a senior fellow at the
Center for International Policy in Washington and former US diplomat in
Cuba. "But he has named his longtime No. 2 to be No. 2."

The Congress was significant because Fidel Castro was not named the head
of the party for the first time since it was formed in 1965. Instead
Raul Castro will officially assume that role.

Cuban watchers were eager to see if a younger leader would be chosen as
Raul Castro's longtime position as second secretary. But veteran José
Ramón Machado Ventura, 80, will take the spot, while Ramiro Valdes will
take over the No. 3 role. Both have collaborated with the Castros since
at least the 1950s.

Raul Castro addressed the apparent contradiction in his closing speech.
"We have kept various veterans of the historic generation, and that is
logical due to the consequences of the mistakes that have been made in
this area," he was quoted by the Associated Press as saying in his
closing speech. "These have robbed us of a back bench of mature
substitutes with enough experience to take on the country's top positions."

Two younger politicians were named to leadership positions, including
Marino Murillo who is overseeing economic reform in Cuba. They could
later be groomed for top positions. And even the rhetoric alone is a
change that Mr. Smith views as significant.

"At least they are talking about the need to bring to the fore the
younger generation, and not have the same leaders decade after decade,"
Smith says. "At least it is an encouraging sign that [Raul Castro] is
talking about it."

The Congress was the first in 14 years and comes amid economic changes
that Raul Castro has made, including the announcement last fall that
half a million state jobs will be slashed. Delegates debated some 300
economic proposals, but few details were released. Instead, they
underlined their commitment to changes forthcoming.

"It could have been a Congress that declared new policies with schedules
attached to them … that named a bunch of new people," says Philip
Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute. "Instead it was a
Congress that expressed commitments for future actions."

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