Cuban leader Raúl Castro and José Ramón Machado Ventura, revolutionaries who have been members of the Political Bureau of Cuba’s Communist Party for more than 50 years, were reelected Tuesday to the party’s two most powerful posts, indicating the Old Guard wants a place as Cuba transitions to younger leaders.
Nearly 1,000 delegates to the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba cast ballots for Central Committee members Monday. As their first act, they elected members of the Political Bureau, including its first and second secretaries, on Tuesday, the closing session of the four-day congress.
Castro, 84, who has said he plans to retire from his posts as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers in 2018, will finish his five-year term as the party’s first secretary in 2021.
During a report he gave Saturday at the opening of the VII Congress, Castro hinted that he would be around to pass the torch to a younger generation of party leaders. “The next five years, for obvious reasons, will be defining,” he said. He indicated that the transition won’t be a hurried process and change won’t be made for the sake of change.
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Castro said delegates had decided to maintain a reduced number of members of Cuba’s “historic generation,” despite their advanced age, because of the authority they maintain before the Cuban people due to their long revolutionary service.
“I truly believe in young people, but we still need as a guide Raúl and Machadito (Machado Ventura),” wrote Alexis Fernández Martínez in comments to a story about the congress posted on the Cubadebate website.
Castro has proposed age limits for entry into the Political Bureau and the party’s Central Committee. But on Tuesday he said that the new rules and the posts to which an age limit of 70 would be applied would be subject to more debate.
Even though Fidel Castro, 89, was elected a congress delegate, he did not attend until the closing day, according to official Cuban media.
In what appeared to be a farewell speech, he said: “The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without truce to obtain them.”
His presence served as a powerful symbol of Cuba’s Old Guard and shouts of Fidel! Fidel! rang out as he came into Havana’s Convention Palace where the congress was held. Castro ceded power to his younger brother in 2006 when he became ill and Raúl was officially elected president of the Council of State in 2008.
When delegates voted on Central Committee members, Raúl Castro cast not only his ballot but that of his brother, saying as he deposited the first vote, “I’m going to vote for the chief first.”
There had been speculation that Machado Ventura, 85, who served as first vice president of the Council of State from 2008 to 2013, might be replaced as second secretary by a younger member of the Politburo but the veteran of the guerrilla war in the Sierra Maestra and a hardliner on some of the economic reform Cuba is undertaking retained his position.
Miguel Díaz-Canel, who turns 56 Wednesday and as first vice president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers is Castro’s heir apparent, retained his Politburo seat. Had he replaced Machado Ventura as second secretary, as some analysts had speculated before the congress, it would have provided a clear signal about succession.
Díaz-Canel was one of 12 Political Bureau members who were reelected.
But there was some generational renewal and new blood added to the Politburo. Five new members, including three women, Teresa Amarelle, secretary general of the Cuban Federation of Women; Mirian Nicado García, rector of the University of Informatics Sciences, and Marta Ayala Ávila., assistant director of the Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, were elected.
The other new members are Public Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda and Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, secretary of the Workers Central Union of Cuba.
“Besides a few new women, these people just don’t want to change. The Old Guard has made it clear they don’t want to lose control,” said Andy Gomez, a Cuba analyst and a retired vice provost at the University of Miami. “It seems the Old Guard has won.”
Two members of the Politburo, Abelardo Colome Ibarra, who served as Interior Minister until his October 2015 retirement for health reasons, and Adel Yzquierdo Rodríguez, transport minister, were replaced.
The new body has 17 members and there are now four women. Mercedes López Acea, who became a member of the Politburo in 2011 and is the first secretary of Havana’s party committee, was reelected.
The new Central Committee has 142 members, according to a list published by Cubadebate, an official Cuban website.
There had been speculation in Miami that the children of Raúl Castro might land on the Central Committee. But neither his daughter Mariela Castro Espín, director of the National Center for Sex Education, nor his son, Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, were promoted to higher party posts.
New Political Bureau of Cuba’s Communist Party
Raúl Castro, first secretary
José Ramón Machado Ventura, second secretary
José Ramón Machado Ventura
Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez
Esteban Lazo Hernández
Ramiro Valdés Menéndez
Salvador Valdés Mesa
Leopoldo Cintra Frías
Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla
Marino Murillo Jorge
Mercedes López Acea
Alvaro López Miera
Ramón Espinosa Martín
Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, secretary of the Workers Central Union of Cuba
Roberto Morales Ojeda, public health minister
Miriam Nicado García, rector of the University of Informatic Sciences
Teresa Amarelle Boué, secretary general of the Federation of Cuban Women
Marta Ayala Ávila, assistant director of the Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology