It is his last day at the head of the Communist Party of Cuba: Raul Castro, 89, gives way to a new generation on Monday, a historic moment after six decades in power by the Castro brothers, but which does not change the political line in any way .
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“I have the satisfaction of knowing that we are handing over the leadership of the country to a group of prepared leaders,” who defend the “principles of the Revolution and socialism,” he said on Friday, opening the congress of party in Havana, baptized “congress of continuity”.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel, 60, is expected to take over as first secretary of the one party, the most powerful post in Cuba, one of the last five communist countries in the world along with China, Vietnam, Laos and Korea North.
Symbolic change of guard
The handover comes at a critical time for the island, plunged into its worst economic crisis in 30 years under the effect of the coronavirus pandemic and the strengthening of the American embargo imposed since 1962.
For the vast majority of the 11.2 million Cubans, the change is a strong symbol, because they have never known a Castro – Fidel, then his brother Raul – at the helm.
“I, since I was born, have only known one party,” says Miguel Gainza, a 58-year-old craftsman who crossed paths in the historic district of Havana. “And no one dies of hunger, it’s true.”
But today, “we are a little stuck, and it’s a shame that Fidel is dead, because he, yes, solved all the problems”.
On Sunday, the 300 party delegates (officially 700,000 members) elected the new Central Committee, a governing body made up of 114 people.
On Monday, the latter in turn will appoint the Political Bureau, the heart of the power which currently has 17 members and from which the new number one and number two will come.
For John Kavulich, president of the United States / Cuba Economic and Commercial Council, a generational succession is essential, because “for the moment, the cumulative age of the three most important leaders of the party is approaching 300 years”.
A change of mentality, too, is necessary according to him: the party “does not need any more to fight for a revolution but rather to manage a country”.
A tired population
Most Cubans are tired of shortages and endless queues, in this island forced to import 80% of what it consumes.
But for the government, heated by four years of sanctions from the Trump administration, ideological warfare remains paramount.
“The existence in Cuba of a single party has been and always will be the target of the campaigns of the enemy (ie the United States), determined to fragment and divide the Cubans with the chants of the sirens. of the sacrosanct bourgeois democracy ”, proclaimed Raul Castro, calling on the new generations to“ zealously protect ”the dogma of the single party.
In the pizzeria where he works with rap music in the background, Luis Enrique Oramas, 30, begins to dream: “If they let people think what they want, it would be like elsewhere where there are two or even three parties ”.
“Most people would like that, rather than what we have now, a party where everyone thinks the same.”
And an aging party, too: even though a good chunk of the historic generation – those who made the 1959 revolution – are expected to retire, 42.6% of activists are over 55.
Young Cubans, many of whom go into exile each year for lack of opportunities, are increasingly expressing their frustrations on social networks, boosted by the arrival of mobile internet at the end of 2018.
The Internet has been the engine of unprecedented social discontent in this country where demonstrations are extremely rare: thanks to it, artists, dissidents and animal rights activists have mobilized in the streets.
Raul Castro blasted the “subversion” of social networks which give “a virtual image of Cuba as a moribund society with no future, on the verge of collapsing and giving way to the social explosion, so desired” by the States. United.
The party passed a resolution to strengthen “revolutionary activism on social media”.
During the congress, dozens of activists, independent journalists and artists denounced via Twitter being prevented by the police from leaving their homes, a technique used by the authorities to prevent any gathering. Others said they had suffered internet shutdowns.