Raúl Castro said he is stepping down as chief of Cuba’s ruling Communist Party, leaving behind a demoralized country running on little but post-revolutionary fumes as it struggles with growing food shortages and rising discontent.
Mr. Castro’s retirement announcement Friday, which came during a four-day party congress in the capital of Havana, marks a generational change as the old guard that took power with his older brother Fidel Castro in 1959 gives way to a younger generation of bureaucrats. The 89-year-old is expected to be replaced by his handpicked successor, President Miguel Díaz-Canel, a longtime party apparatchik.
Mr. Díaz-Canel, a burly, white haired 60-year-old, takes over at a particularly tough time, with Cuba’s economy facing its biggest crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The Covid-19 pandemic has largely shut down the country’s vital tourism industry, causing the economy to contract 11% last year, according to the government.
Complicating matters, Mr. Díaz-Canel confronts the challenges without any of the lingering cachet held by the generation of revolutionary leaders.
Mr. Díaz-Canel will have to balance many Cubans’ demands for greater economic and political freedoms with entrenched resistance to change from a longstanding cohort of military and Communist party hard-liners. Amid rising calls for a new approach, the regime is trying to project an image of business as usual. Mr. Díaz-Canel’s Twitter hashtag is #SomosContinuidad or “We Are Continuity,” and the congress is billed as the Congress of Continuity.