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Raul Castro confirmed Friday he is stepping down as the head of Cuba’s Communist Party, marking the end of his family’s six-decade reign.
According to CNN, the 89-year-old politician announced his retirement during the opening day of the Communist Party’s eighth congress. He told party members he was ready for the next generation to assume a leadership role, as he was leaving his post with a sense of fulfillment and confidence “in the future of the fatherland.”
“Nothing, nothing, nothing is forcing me to make this decision,” Castro told delegates, as reported by the Associated Press. “As long as I live I will be ready with my foot in the stirrup to defend the homeland, the revolution and socialism with more force than ever.”
Castro reportedly declined to endorse a successor, but Miguel Díaz-Canel, who became Cuba’s president in 2018, is expected to be his replacement. Delegates will vote on their party leader at the end of the four-day event. Cuba is in the midst of an economic crisis fueled by the global pandemic and harsh sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. Some U.S. lawmakers believe the change of leadership in both countries may lead to more engagement and improved relations.
“Regardless of what administration we have, Republican or Democrat, it’s a good time to engage,” said former Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), told CNN. “It benefits the Cuban people and puts pressure on the Cuban government that they don’t have when we try to isolate them.”
Castro has served as the Communist Party’s secretary-general since 2011. He succeeded his late older brother, Fidel, whose reign began during the 1959 revolution and lasted until 2016.