HAVANA – Although he stepped down as Cuba’s president on Thursday, transforming himself into “a soldier alongside the people,” Raul Castro will not lose a smidgen of power on the communist island, where his opinion will continue to carry undeniable weight in the government’s key decisions, not only as the leader of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) but also of the Revolution itself.
The 86-year-old Castro “will lead in the decisions of greatest significance for the present and the future of the nation,” said his successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel, 57, in his first speech as president, a good part of which focused on emphasizing the legacy of his mentor during his 12 years at the country’s helm.
It was clear on Thursday that, although Castro will not be part of the Council of State and from now on will be officially a regular lawmaker within the National Assembly, his role as the top figure among the Cuban government elite is not up for discussion.
Despite the fact that he is leaving the responsibilities of government to a younger man, his designated successor, Castro will continue to lead the PCC, the top decision-making entity in Cuban society and politics, which in practice means that the generational shift will be overseen for the next three years by the old guard still in place.
“So that not the slightest doubt remains, the PCC will resolutely support ... the new president in the exercise of his constitutional duties, contributing to safeguard our most important weapon, the dignity of all the revolutionaries and the people. It cannot be otherwise,” Castro emphasized.
Castro also said, however, that his intention is for Diaz-Canel to replace him at the head of the PCC in 2021, adding that the new president will have to comply with the limit of two five-year terms in office, just as he has done.
Diaz-Canel’s ascension to the top political and party posts implies a return in Cuba to leadership based on the concentration of political, executive and ideological power, the model implemented by both Fidel Castro and Raul and enshrined in the current Constitution, the reform of which will be one of the priorities of the new government.
In his lengthy departing remarks on Thursday, Castro lent strong backing to his successor, reviewed pending issues, including the country’s shaky economic situation despite the reforms he implemented, acknowledged errors made under his management, unveiled the next steps the country will take and, above all, warned that “the revolutionary guard will never drop its guard.”
He also had words for the US at a time of renewed bilateral tension with Washington under President Donald Trump, saying that the US leader had replaced the good intentions of former President Barack Obama, who engineered the now short-circuited political thaw with Cuba, with “an aggressive and threatening tone.”