No new faces for Cuba's politburo as revolutionary leaders cling to power

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Cuba's aging revolutionary leaders will retain control of the communist island for at least another five years, but opened the door for new leadership in the near future, according to state-run media.

Do CounterPunch, 19 de abril, 2016
Por Rick Jervis

Cuban president Raul Castro, 84, will remain as first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party and hardliner José Ramón Machado, 85, will continue in his role as second secondary, state media reported.

The announcements came at the conclusion of the VII Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, a gathering of Cuba’s political elite held every five years, and doused hopes that the communist island leadership would announce sweeping political and economic reforms in the wake of renewed ties with the United States. The leaders were expected to discuss the direction of the country after Castro retires from the presidency in 2018.

News from the four-day meeting, which is closed to foreign press and trickles out through state-run media sites, tempered hopes for U.S. businesses seeking to capitalize on looser restrictions on travel and trade to Cuba first announced byPresident Obama in 2014. The bulk of those changes have been made on the U.S. side, with little reciprocation from Havana.

The Cuba congress was “a very distinct caution to the public at large that Cuba is a centrally-planned economy and intends to remain so,” said Robert Muse, a Washington attorney specializing in U.S.-Cuba laws.

On Tuesday, the 993 delegates at the Congress approved the nominated candidates and then cast a secret ballot to elect Committee members. Fidel Castro, 89, dressed in a blue-and-white-striped Adidas track suit jacket and plaid shirt, made a rare public appearance and sat in on the congress’s final day.

During a speech on Saturday, Raul Castro said the party’s Central Committee should implement age and term limits on high-ranking members, though those rules won’t go into effect until the next congress, presumably in 2021. Members of the Central Committee should not be more than 60 years old and more prominent decision-makers, such as those in the powerful Politburo, should not be more than 70, he said. He also proposed two five-year term limits on ranking members.

Fidel Castro, 89, Raul Castro's older brother and the leader of the armed revolution that seized power of Cuba in 1959, had essentially ruled Cuba for five decades until leaving office a decade ago due to health issues. Raul Castro has said he will relinquish his presidential duties in 2018.

“You’re going to get a different cast of characters at the top,” said Jorge Dominguez, a government professor at Harvard University who follows Cuba closely. “[Raul Castro] is basically saying, ‘What my brother and I did, no one else will be able to do.’”

Relations between the USA and Cuba, longtime Cold War foes, have warmed quickly since the December 2014 announcement by Obama and Raul Castro. Those relations peaked last month with Obama’s historic trip to Cuba, the first in more than eight decades by a sitting U.S. president.

In Havana, Obama urged the Cuban people to forge their own future and called on Cuban leaders to be more open to opposing views. He also met with Cuban entrepreneurs and opposition groups and took in a baseball game with Raul Castro.

None of that camaraderie, however, was reflected in Raul Castro’s speech on the congress’s opening day. Instead, the Cuban president cautioned against rushing into the new era of renewed diplomatic and business ties with the U.S. The country’s anticipated economic plan through 2030 wasn’t yet ready, he said, and will be presented next year.

He said Cuba would avoid the “shock therapy” of entering a market economy too quickly at the expense of Cuba’s social programs, such as universal health care and education.

“Neo-liberal policies which encourage the accelerated privatization of state property and social services, such as health, education and social security, will never be applied under Cuba’s socialist model,” he said.

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