Castro confirms he's stepping down as Cuban leader


Raúl Castro confirmed Friday that he’s stepping down as leader of Cuba’s Communist Party, bringing an end to decades-long rule of the island by the Castro family. 

Castro confirmed his retirement in a speech marking the start of a new Congress, though his exit from Cuban politics is not anticipated to mark a wave of changes in the country or revamp its relationship with the U.S.

Castro, 89, said in his speech he was ready to give power to younger leaders who are "full of passion and anti-imperialist spirit."

"I believe fervently in the strength and exemplary nature and comprehension of my compatriots, and as long as I live, I will be ready with my foot in the stirrups to defend the fatherland, the revolution and socialism," Castro told party delegates.

Castro stepped down as Cuba’s president in 2018 after serving in that post for two terms. He was replaced by Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, his handpicked successor. No successor was immediately named to lead the Communist Party, though Castro has said he expects Bermúdez to replace him once again.

The retirement marks a historic shift for Cuba, which has been led by Castro and his brother, Fidel, since the country’s 1959 revolution. Fidel Castro died in 2016.

Despite stepping down as head of Cuba's Communist Party, Raúl Castro is still expected to loom large over the island’s government.

"I believe fervently in the strength and exemplary nature and comprehension of my compatriots, and as long as I live, I will be ready with my foot in the stirrups to defend the fatherland, the revolution and socialism," he said.

Castro’s exit from the Communist Party’s top post comes as amid a slate of challenges, including a shrinking economy and spiking coronavirus cases.

However, Cuba’s politics are not expected to see broad changes given that party leaders who came up after the revolution are expected to fill top posts instead of younger politicians more open to reforms.

“This isn’t a dynastic transition — the new leadership, though shaped by the Castro brothers and their legacy, are the next generation of the Cuban Communist Party, not the next generation of the Castro family,” Geoff Thale, president of the Washington Office on Latin America, told The Hill.

Cuba has vexed the Democratic Party in the U.S., with some like former President Obama more eager to open ties with the island and others remaining less willing to spend political capital to form relations with a government that many pan as a human rights violator.

Cuban voters in Florida also helped flip two Democratic-held House seats in the Sunshine State to Republicans.

President Biden is not eyeing any moves in the near future involving the island nation, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki saying Friday that a policy shift with Cuba “is currently not among the president’s top foreign-policy priorities.”

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