Raúl Castro passes baton to next generation at Cuban Communist Party congress
Raul Castro, right, raises the hand of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel after Diaz-Canel was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party at the closing session of the 8th Party Congress in Havana, Monday, April 19, 2021. Diaz-Canel previously succeeded Castro as Cuba's president in 2019. | Ariel Ley Royero / ACN

Former Cuban President Raúl Castro retired from his last major public office this weekend, standing down as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba at its Eighth Congress.

Castro had first come to worldwide notice in 1953, when he, his brother Fidel, and other young rebels attacked the Batista dictatorship’s Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba.

In his report to the congress this weekend, 68 years since the Moncada raid, Castro spoke of the “historic generation” and the handover to “new generations” of Cuban Communists.

“I have the satisfaction,” he declared, “that we are handing over the country’s leadership to a group of prepared leaders, hardened by decades of experience as they moved from the base to maximum responsibilities, committed to the ethics and principles of the Revolution and socialism.”

Delegates to the Eighth Congress voted Monday on new members of the party’s Central Committee, its top leadership body between congresses. Elected to succeed Castro is current Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who will now also serve as the party’s new first secretary. Salvador Valdés Mesa will serve as second secretary.

Delegates listen to a report at the 8th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in Havana. | Juvenal Balán / Granma

The eighth congress took place April 16-19 at the Conventions Palace in Havana. Because of precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 300 delegates representing 700,000 party members attended. In 2016, a total of 1,000 delegates were present at the Seventh Congress.

This year’s congress coincided with two anniversaries: Cuba’s Bay-of-Pigs victory 60 years ago over U.S.-sponsored counterrevolutionaries and Fidel Castro’s declaration of the socialist nature of Cuba’s Revolution.

Provincial Party Committees met on March 4 to elect delegates to the congress. Gathering on March 15-20 in their own localities, delegates discussed and “introduced significant modifications” to documents intended for debate at the congress.

In opening remarks on the congress’s first day, José Ramón Machado Ventura, the outgoing second secretary of the party’s Central Committee, said, “The party is a guarantee of national unity and the synthesis of the ideals of dignity, social justice, and independence of generations of patriots.”

Raúl Castro, fulfilling his final duty as first secretary, presented the congress’s main report on opening day. With 11,971 words, it ranged widely. Castro highlighted contributions of the armed forces (he had previously headed Cuba’s military), the tourist industry disaster due to COVID-19 travel disruptions, the challenges of managing the pandemic, the “re-ordering” economic changes and conversion to a single currency, the U.S. economic blockade, U.S. interventions in Latin America, European complicity with the blockade, and Cuba’s solidarity with other socialist countries and with Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico.

He noted achievements such as the new Cuban Constitution of 2019, legislation and administrative actions to improve the “functioning and organization” of governmental agencies, success in responding to the pandemic, domestic development of five anti-COVID vaccine candidates, and resistance to “a resurgent [U.S.] economic blockade.” He applauded “27,000 new Party members and growth of the Young Communist Union.”

“We have to erase the dangerous notion, reflecting paternalism and egalitarianism, that Cuba is the only country where one can live without working.” — Raúl Castro

Castro reviewed recommendations expected from key commissions holding forth at the congress. Doing so, he criticized “excess bureaucracy,” “the dangerous phenomenon of corruption,” demands by “some professionals” to enter the private sector, subversion of “the socialist principle of a state monopoly of foreign trade,” “inadequate policies of social communication,” and more.

He recommended “greater dynamism in putting the economic and social model into effect,” consolidation of investments, strengthening the state sector of the economy—“indispensable for sustaining a socialist economy”—and “a real shift in mentality toward support for increased national production, especially food production.”

Castro insisted party members “have to erase the dangerous notion, reflecting paternalism and egalitarianism, that Cuba is the only country where one can live without working.”

Referring to the “Guidelines” on the economy approved by the previous party congress, Castro reported that this Congress would maintain 17 of them, modify 165, dispose of 92, and add 18 new ones.

The former president also remarked that “unity of the immense majority of Cubans and the work and ideals of the Revolution has been our basic strategic weapon for successfully confronting any threat or aggression.” He called for revitalizing the Communist Party’s work with mass organizations and “defense of the Revolution at the base, in factories, on farms, in neighborhoods, in the struggle against crime and lack of social discipline.”

The rest of the congress’s first day and the entire next day were devoted to three commissions deliberating separately. Each would discuss, alter, and approve a set of draft resolutions previously considered by provincial party committees.

The Economic and Social Commission reviewed draft resolutions on continuing implementation of the Guidelines for economic and political change approved by the Seventh Party Congress in 2016. That commission divided into three work teams. Another commission had to do with party functioning, ideological work, and ties with the Cuban people. A third commission dealt with members of the party referred to as “cadres.”

On the third day of the congress, leaders of the three commissions presented three sets of results from their meetings to a plenary session. In each case, resolutions had been discussed and approved, and final approval by the congress itself was being sought.

Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz headed the first commission, which considered aspects of implementing the previously established Guidelines. Reporting to the plenary, he discussed commission findings and asked for approval of resolutions to fix deficiencies. These included recommendations to strengthen economic management, especially in the state business sector; solve structural economic problems; consolidate the recently-introduced initiative of monetary and social-service reordering; continue the development of science, technology, and innovation; bolster social justice under new conditions; improve people’s living conditions, and make consumer goods more widely available. The congress gave unanimous approval.

Raul Castro, center, with fellow revolutionary leaders Che Guevara, left, and Fidel Castro, right, at a May Day parade in Havana, 1963. | via Granma

The party’s second secretary, José Ramón Machado Ventura, presided over the commission on the party functioning. He too presented discussion results and asked for approval of resolutions. They centered on: strengthening ideological consensus, tying the party to the masses at all levels, reaching out to new generations, thinking and acting on behalf of the country with “commitment, firmness, creativity, and intelligence,” relying on the most advanced revolutionary thought, Cuban and universal; growing the party, and strengthening ties to the Union of Young Communists and young people in general. The delegates’ approval was, again, unanimous.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, leader of the commission on cadres, likewise submitted the results of discussion to the congress. He too asked for and received approval of resolutions. Their main themes included: consolidation of the role of leadership formations and organizations at the party’s base; greater ideological grounding; streamlined processes for selecting and developing cadres; adding efficiency to work with youth; staying strong against corruption; investigating modes of leadership and interaction with cadres; development of a system for preparing cadres; and reinforcement of cadres’ social image.

Endorsing the election of Díaz-Canel to succeed him, Castro said, the new leader is “not the fruit of improvisation but of the thoughtful selection of a young revolutionary who has all that is required to be promoted to higher positions.”

And though he is vacating the top leadership position in the party, Castro gave no signal he was stepping away from the struggle to build socialism in Cuba. “As long as I live,” he said, “I will be ready with my foot in the stirrup to defend the homeland, the revolution, and socialism with more force than ever.”


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.