Raul Castro resigns as Communist chief, ending era in Cuba

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Raul Castro, first secretary of the Communist Party and former president, attends the VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba's opening session, at the Convention Palace in Havana, Cuba, Friday, April 16, 2021. (Ariel Ley Royero/ACN via AP)

HAVANA – Raul Castro said Friday he is stepping down as head of Cuba’s Communist Party, ending an era of formal leadership that began with his brother Fidel and country’s 1959 revolution.

The 89-year-old Castro made the announcement in a speech at the opening of the eighth congress of the ruling party, the only one allowed on the island.

He said he was retiring with the sense of having “fulfilled his mission and confident in the future of the fatherland.”

“Nothing, nothing, nothing is forcing me to make this decision,” said Castro, part of whose speech to the closed Congress 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.”

Castro didn’t say who he would endorse as his successor as first secretary of the Communist Party. But he previously indicated he favors yielding control to 60-year-old Miguel Díaz-Canel, who succeeded him as president in 2018 and is the standard bearer of a younger generation of loyalists who have been pushing an economic opening without touching Cuba’s one-party system.

Photographs released by the official Cuban News Agency showed Castro, dressed in an olive green uniform, entering the compound with Díaz-Canel by his side.

Castro's retirement means that for the first time in more than six decades Cubans won’t have a Castro formally guiding their affairs and many had been expecting the change.

“One has to step aside for the young people," said 64-year-old retiree Juana Busutil, for whom Castro “is going to continue being the leader.”