During his dissertation at the fourth and last day of the 7th Cuban Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba last Tuesday, April 19, the Caribbean island’s long-standing revolutionary leader Fidel Castro announced that he would soon be departing this world and implored his people to continue his social vision for his country.
“Soon, I will be 90,” said Castro, whose birthday is Aug. 13. “I’ll be like all the others. 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 a truce to obtain them.”
Castro’s regime has controlled Cuba ever since he led a revolution in which he overthrew former president Fulgencio Batista and seized power 55 years ago. He then established a socialist system and maintained Cuba’s self-sufficiency without bowing down to surrounding imperialistic powers. The United States responded by enforcing economic embargoes and travel and trade tariffs against Cuba.
Some Cubans are concerned that their country is stuck in the past as other parts of the world are on a fast track to the future. They wish to remind people that the Iron Curtain was demolished a couple decades ago. With U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Cuba, opening up diplomatic relations between the two former foes, many Cubans believe that their independent island country should be catching up with the times.
Obama was the first standing U.S. president to visit Cuba in almost 90 years. During his visit he met with Castro and stated his hope that diplomatic relations be rekindled, causing some Cubans to be skeptical and to wonder how fostering relations will benefit their island.
In his later years, age and ailing health caused Castro to take a step back and hand over the reigns to his younger brother Raul in early 2011. During his speech, Castro announced that Raul would retain the Cuban Communist Party’s highest post and also maintain his close comrades to keep control. Raul, 84, is the party’s first secretary and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 85, who assisted the Castro brothers in the 1959 coup, is the second secretary.
Some in attendance were moved to tears by Castro’s words as others repeatedly chanted “Fidel!” in admiration. “This may be one of the last times I speak in this room,” warned Castro. “We must tell our brothers in Latin America and the world that the Cuban people will be victorious.”
“The Cuban people are followers of Fidel and he’s a force that still has a lot of power,” said Francisco Rodríguez, a party member and critic. “It’s easy to love Fidel now that he doesn’t have a public position. He’s a person who always had a coherent idea and that makes him an exalted figure.”
Many Cubans are pushing for a major overhaul of the guard to make way for a younger generation that will present fresher ideas.
“We need deep change in the party,” suggested Harold Cárdenas Lema, founder of the blog La Joven Cuba. He added that young leaders already exist and they just need support. “It’s not a question of preparing people or creating them,” he said. “It’s a question of making them visible.”