Castro Era Ends in Cuba as Raul Steps Down

The Castro reign has ended in Cuba after its Communist Party leader, Raul Castro, 89, the island nation's former president, formally announced that he is stepping down from the position on Friday, according to the Associated Press.

The decision will end the country's era of leadership under Castro and his older brother, Fidel Castro, which has been uninterrupted since the 1959 revolution that Fidel led.

Alongside his announcement, Castro said that he is resigning having "fulfilled his mission and confident in the future of the fatherland," according to AP.

Castro has not publicly endorsed anyone to succeed him but previously has hinted at his support for Miguel Diaz-Canel, 60, the current president of Cuba who succeeded Castro's presidency in 2018.

For Cuba, it will be the first time in more than 60 years without the influence of Castro leadership after Fidel, who died in 2016, headed a revolution in 1959 to oust dictator Fulgencio Batista, then officially became the Communist Party's leader in 1965, about four years after officially embracing socialism.

He quickly absorbed the old party under his control and was the country's unquestioned leader until falling ill in 2006 and then in 2008 handing over the presidency to Raul, who had fought alongside him during the revolution.

Poster of Raul Castro
Raul Castro announced on Friday that he will be stepping down as the leader of Cuba's Communist Party. In the photo, Marta Parra, president of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, decorates her block to celebrate Workers' Day in Havana, on May 1, 2020, holding a poster of Raul Castro. Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Castro made the announcement of resignation Friday in a speech at the opening of the Eighth Congress of the ruling party, the only one allowed on the island.

Diaz-Canel is the standard bearer of a younger generation of loyalists who have been pushing an economic opening without touching Cuba's one-party system.

Castro's resignation comes at a difficult time, with many on the island anxious about what lies ahead.

The coronavirus pandemic, painful financial reforms and restrictions imposed by the Trump administration have battered the economy, which shrank 11% last year as a result of a collapse in tourism and remittances. Long food lines and shortages have brought back echoes of the "special period" that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Discontent has been fueled by the spread of the internet and growing inequality.

Much of the debate inside Cuba is focused on the pace of reform, with many complaining that the so-called "historic generation" represented by Castro has been too slow to open the economy.

In January, Diaz-Canel finally pulled the trigger on a plan approved two congresses ago to unify the island's dual currency system, giving rise to fears of inflation. He also threw open the doors to a broader range of private enterprise—a category long banned or tightly restricted—permitting Cubans to legally operate many sorts of self-run businesses from their homes.

This year's congress is expected to focus on unfinished reforms to overhaul state-run enterprises, attract foreign investment and provide more legal protection to private business activities.

The Communist Party is made up of 700,000 activists and is tasked in Cuba's constitution with directing the affairs of the nation and society.