Viet Nam News -
HAVANA - Fidel Castro appeared alongside brother Raul at a Communist party congress that ended without sweeping leadership changes, leaving to another day the question of who will run Cuba when the old guard bows out.
Flanked by his younger sibling, the 89-year-old retired revolutionary was given a rock star welcome at the close of a congress that left Cuba’s elderly Politburo at the helm for another five years -- despite Raul Castro’s pledge to stand down in 2018.
As the crowd chanted "Fidel! Fidel!", the longtime leader hailed the accomplishments of the revolution he led decades earlier and that continues to serve as the nation’s political blueprint.
"The ideas of Communist Cuba will live on as proof on this planet that if one works fervently and with dignity one can produce the material and cultural goods needed by man," Fidel proclaimed, seated on stage in his habitual tracksuit.
"We should fight without end to achieve them," the now-frail statesman, who led Cuba for 47 years, told the party meeting intended to set the island’s economic and political path for the coming five years.
The 1,000 delegates present gave Fidel a standing ovation for his second public appearance in less than two weeks, and his third in about nine months.
There was little evidence at the meeting of Cuba’s recent political and economic upheaval, as Havana continues the process of ending its bitter enmity with the United States and takes steps to introduce free market elements to its formerly tightly-controlled economy.
Wrapping up four days of closed-door meetings -- held a month after a landmark visit by US President Barack Obama -- Raul Castro said he would continue to govern with a Politburo of elderly leaders, several of whom are in their 70s and 80s.
"This congress will be the last one led by the historic generation, which will hand over the banners of the revolution and socialism to the young generation," the 84-year-old leader said in a speech published by official Cuban media, who were alone in having access to the convention.
No clear successor
Raul Castro, who took over the reins of power a decade ago, was affirmed first secretary by the party and reaffirmed his intention to leave office in 2018 with no clear successor.
Alongside members of the old guard -- some of them former comrades-in-arms who fought as revolutionaries alongside the Castro brothers -- several up-and-comers retained their posts in the Politburo.
They included Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, 58, and Miguel Diaz-Canel, 55, Cuba’s first vice president who is considered Raul Castro’s heir apparent.
But for Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based think-tank InterAmerican Dialogue, "the party is postponing the inevitable -- getting new political leadership."
"At this point there seems to be little internal agreement," he told AFP, "just factions staking out their positions, and the old guard standing its ground."
The powerful figure of Jose Machado Ventura, 85, will retain the key post as second secretary of the party, which he has held since 2011.
Others held over from the old guard include armed forces chief General Leopoldo Cintra Frias, 72, and another general Ramon Espinosa, 77.
There were however some marginal tweaks to the buro, which expands from 14 members to 17, four of them women against just one at present, official media reported.
Two key figures are departing from the Communist party leadership. Abelardo Colome gave up his post as minister of the interior in October because of health problems. Cuba’s transport minister Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez, is also leaving his post.
The party also put in place a maximum age limit of 70 for the nation’s top leaders, but decreed that this change will not go into effect until after 2021.
The previous congress, in 2011, had introduced significant economic reforms, cracking open the door to small-scale private enterprise and foreign investment.
Raul Castro earlier in the convention defended the slow pace of change to the island’s economy, which has only cautiously and gradually opened up to some private entrepreneurship and foreign investment.-AFP