After decades with a Castro in charge, Cubans are now in store for a change in direction.
Raul Castro, the brother of longtime Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, announced this week that he intends to retire from his position at the head of the communist regime, signaling a period of uncertainty and hope for the oppressed island nation in anticipation of a new leader.
A changing of the guard
The announcement came on Friday at the start of Cuba’s Eighth Party Congress when the 89-year-old dictator revealed his intention to step down from his prominent role as the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party.
His retirement will mark the first time since the 1959 Cuban revolution that a member of his family has not been in full control of the nation. Castro is expected to be joined in retirement by his long-serving chief deputy, 90-year-old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, the last of the revolution’s veterans still serving in the regime’s Politburo.
Raul Castro assumed power in 2008 from his older brother, first as president and later as first secretary. It is anticipated that he will hand over the reins of control to Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel, who was his hand-picked successor as president in 2018.
As the Miami Herald noted, the predicted ascension of 60-year-old Diaz-Canel signals a changing of the guard in Cuba, in that he would be the first leader born after the revolution.
Such a move would also mark a rare opportunity for a new path forward for the communist government. Since assuming the role of vice president in 2013 and during his years as president, he has overseen — with the support of Castro — some limited cultural and economic reforms, such as allowing citizens some access to private enterprise as well as the use of cellphones and internet.
“Ambassadors for freedom and prosperity”
Despite the moderate expansion of freedoms, Diaz-Canel continues to voice the same Marxist rhetoric of his predecessors while ruthlessly rushing protests by dissenters. He is also seen as a loyalist to the regime and could prove to be as dictatorial as the Castro brothers if and when he takes over.
Amid rumors of Castro’s impending retirement last month, The Hill reported that U.S. President Joe Biden had been caught between two disparate congressional factions in regard to his administration’s approach to the communist nation.
A number of Democrats hope to see a return to Obama-era efforts toward re-established diplomatic relations while many Republicans want to see tough sanctions continued until the nation implements meaningful democratic changes.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed questions about the news during a briefing on Friday, indicating that the Biden administration is focused on “support for the democracy and human rights” as well as allowing Cuban-Americans to serve as “the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity.”
She went on to declare that a “Cuba policy shift or additional steps is not currently among the president’s top foreign policy priorities,” though the administration “will remain engaged in and focused on” the issue as a new leader takes control.