Raul Castro, the figurehead of Cuba's Communist party over the past decade, announced his resignation on Friday. The 89-year-old leader said that he wasn't forced to step down from his post as the party's first secretary. Instead, he was retiring after having "fulfilled his mission" and was also "confident in the future of the fatherland."
Castro made the announcement at the eighth congress of the ruling party, part of which was aired on state television.
"As long as I live I will be ready with my foot in the stirrup to defend the homeland, the revolution and socialism with more force than ever," said Castro, who took over the helm of the party in 2011.
Castro didn't reveal his successor, but has previously indicated favoring Miguel Diaz-Canel, who took over as the president of the country in 2018. He said that he was handing over to a new leadership who were party loyalists and "full of passion and anti-imperialist spirit."
The Castro era started with communist guerrilla leader Fidel ousting US-backed strongman Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Fidel Castro then dominated Cuban politics until 2006, when his failing health forced him to start transferring power to his younger brother Raul. Fidel Castro died in 2016. Following Raul Castro's retirement on Friday, Cuba will no longer have a Castro formally involved in the country's affairs, after more than six decades.
Cuba's economy in trouble
In his resignation speech, Raul Castro said that it was important to speed up reforms. He denounced "inertia, conformism" and lack of initiative in state-owned companies.
Castro's resignation comes at a time when Cuba is reeling from an economic crisis, deepened by the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions imposed by the Trump-era US administration.
The last year saw food shortages and discontent from the public over growing inequality. Earlier this year, the Cuban government implemented a plan to unify Cuba's dual currency and allowed private businesses to operate in most sectors of the country, in the biggest reform to Cuba's state-controlled economy for years.
Reform-minded Cuban economists have long called for the role of small businesses to be expanded to help jump-start the economy and to create jobs.
The economy has stagnated for years and contracted by 11% last year.
Raul Castro succeeded his brother Fidel Castro as the head of the Communist party in 2011. He became the face of Communist Cuba over the past decade, after working as a guerrilla commander and later as a senior figure in the socialist government.
am/dj (Reuters, AP)