Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cuba's new blood: 80-year-old Castro ally

Cuba's new blood: 80-year-old Castro ally
Randal Archibold
April 21, 2011

CUBA has made the most significant change to its leadership since the
1959 revolution.

For the first time it has named someone other than the Castro brothers
to fill the second-highest position in the Communist Party, possibly
setting the stage for their successor.

The appointment, at the party's first congress in 14 years, coincided
with a blizzard of changes opening the way for more private enterprise.
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Fidel Castro (left) raises his brother Raul's hand as they sing the
anthem of international socialism at the Communist Party Congress in Havana.

Fidel Castro (left) raises his brother Raul's hand as they sing the
anthem of international socialism at the Communist Party Congress in
Havana. Photo: AP

Taken together, the actions were meant to pull the revolution, at 53,
out of a midlife crisis that has led to a sinking economy and, even in
the estimation of President Raul Castro, stagnant thinking.

But Mr Castro, for all his talk about the need to rejuvenate, in the end
stuck with the old guard for now, many of them fellow military officers.

''The rebel army is the soul of the revolution,'' he said, quoting his
newly retired brother, Fidel.

The new No. 2 is not the young up-and-comer Raul Castro, 79, had hinted
he might select to guide a post-Castro era. Instead, he tapped a party
stalwart, Jose Ramon Machado, 80, who fought beside him in the mountains
during the rebellion.

Mr Castro did, however, appoint several people younger than 70 to the
central committee and three to the 15-member Politburo, including the
architect of the current round of economic changes, possibly grooming
them for bigger roles.

Mr Castro acknowledged that his generation had lagged in preparing young
leaders, saying Cuba lacked ''a reserve of substitutes with the
sufficient maturity and experience to take over the principal duties of
the country.''

Some analysts disputed that, saying his moves merely solidified his
power against stirrings from those who are young and progressive.

''What it means is any generational change and the implementation of
reforms will be guided by the 'historicos' - or perhaps better put,
constrained by the history of the Cuban revolution and the memories and
goals of its founders,'' said Christopher Sabatini, a Cuba scholar who
edits Americas Quarterly.

Fidel Castro, 84, who had been absent from the proceedings over the
weekend, looked on, dressed in a dark warm-up suit over a checkered
shirt and helped at times by aides when he stood to clap, which he did
especially vigorously for his brother.

Given Mr Machado's age, some doubted that he would succeed Raul Castro.
Instead, as a trusted lieutenant, he may play a pivotal role in helping
to choose a successor and under what structure he may govern.

Aside from being a fellow combatant during the revolution, Mr Machado
may have also appealed to Mr Castro because of his role overseeing the
inner workings of the party, said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a University of
Denver lecturer and former political analyst in the Cuban Interior
Ministry. He is in charge of an office approving promotions and
developing ties with party leaders across the island.

''Machado will be a key factor in choosing not only the successor but
also the structure of separation of powers destined to replace, within
the party and between party and government, the current model of 'Castro
in command,''' Mr Lopez-Levy said.

Raul Castro, as expected, took the top position of the party and read a
list of leadership changes that made official his brother's departure
from the ranks of the party he founded. Fidel Castro, warmly cheered by
party members, announced last month that he was no longer first
secretary of the party, but his name still appeared on lists.

Raul Castro, aside from offering the usual lashing words towards the US,
portrayed the changes as an upgrade of Cuban socialism, rather than a
reboot that could open the way to full-bore capitalism.

''I assume my post to defend, preserve and continue perfecting socialism
and never permit the return of capitalism,'' he said.

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