The theme of the Sixth Party Congress in Cuba seemed clear enough: President Raul Castro opened the summit Saturday saying that a new generation of Cuban politicians was needed to secure the socialist revolution.
Even former Cuban leader Fidel Castro seemed to embrace the message. “The new generation is called to rectify and change without hesitation all that must be rectified and changed,” he wrote in the state newspaper Granma.
But by the time the Congress wrapped up Tuesday, new leaders were named to the Communist Party, and none of the top three positions went to anyone younger than 78, leaving the old guard in power and frustrating those Cubans eager for a political shakeup.
“Raul Castro was saying they needed to bring in new leadership, bring the new generation forward,” says Wayne Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington and former US diplomat in Cuba. “But he has named his longtime No. 2 to be No. 2.”
The Congress was significant because Fidel Castro was not named the head of the party for the first time since it was formed in 1965. Instead Raul Castro will officially assume that role.
Cuban watchers were eager to see if a younger leader would be chosen as Raul Castro’s longtime position as second secretary. But veteran José Ramón Machado Ventura, 80, will take the spot, while Ramiro Valdes will take over the No. 3 role. Both have collaborated with the Castros since at least the 1950s.
Raul Castro addressed the apparent contradiction in his closing speech. “We have kept various veterans of the historic generation, and that is logical due to the consequences of the mistakes that have been made in this area,” he was quoted by the Associated Press as saying in his closing speech. “These have robbed us of a back bench of mature substitutes with enough experience to take on the country’s top positions.”
Two younger politicians were named to leadership positions, including Marino Murillo who is overseeing economic reform in Cuba. They could later be groomed for top positions. And even the rhetoric alone is a change that Mr. Smith views as significant.
“At least they are talking about the need to bring to the fore the younger generation, and not have the same leaders decade after decade,” Smith says. “At least it is an encouraging sign that [Raul Castro] is talking about it.”
The Congress was the first in 14 years and comes amid economic changes that Raul Castro has made, including the announcement last fall that half a million state jobs will be slashed. Delegates debated some 300 economic proposals, but few details were released. Instead, they underlined their commitment to changes forthcoming.
“It could have been a Congress that declared new policies with schedules attached to them … that named a bunch of new people,” says Philip Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute. “Instead it was a Congress that expressed commitments for future actions.”