As Fidel Castro steps down, a political shakeup in Cuba?

Delegates since Saturday have debated more than 300 proposals to overhaul the struggling economy. Details on who will fill leadership roles are expected to emerge later today.

Alex Castro/Courtesy of Cubadebate/Reuters
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro talks with former US President Jimmy Carter during a meeting in Havana on March 30.

Cubans could face an economic and political shakeup today, when details of reforms passed at the Sixth Party Congress are released at the close of the summit.

Delegates since Saturday have debated more than 300 proposals to overhaul the struggling economy. They're also set to approve new party leadership – posts that have been held by former president Fidel Castro and his younger brother President Raúl Castro since they were created.

The Congress was the first in 14 years, and it has underlined profound changes embraced by Raúl Castro, who officially took over Cuba’s presidency in 2008, after 49 years of continuous rule by Fidel Castro. At its start, Raúl Castro proposed term limits for leaders and emphasized the need to groom a younger generation to continue on the path of socialism.

“It begins to show people that Cuba is going to be very different under Raúl than Fidel,” says Andy Gomez, senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban & Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

President Raúl Castro is widely expected to take over the party leadership from his brother, who wrote in a column dated Monday that he is stepping down.

Cubans will be watching to see who fills Raúl Castro’s post as second secretary.

State media reported that delegates Monday voted unanimously on the reforms put on the table. The details will be forthcoming at a closing speech given by Raúl Castro later today. Some of the items on the agenda included a right to sell private property as well as the elimination of the dual-currency system and the food ration book for those who do not need it.

Many economic proposals have been debated for months, after Raúl Castro announced last fall that half a million Cubans would be taken off state payrolls. Many of them will be allowed to establish private enterprises.

The Congress will not enforce the proposals they voted upon, but the National Assembly is expected to adopt them into law in the weeks ahead.

The theme of the Congress, which opened Saturday, has been the need to inject more youth into the socialist revolution. Many of the top leaders hail from the era of the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro.

In his opening speech on Saturday, Raúl emphasized the need for younger Cubans to drive the revolution and said that political rule should be limited to two five-year terms.

Fidel Castro seemed to endorse the changes in a column Monday in the state-run newspaper Granma. “The new generation is called upon to rectify and change without hesitation all that needs to be corrected and changed and continue demonstrating that socialism is also the art of doing the impossible,” he wrote.

The news of term limits splashed around the globe, but Mr. Gomez says that it is not a transition to democracy, with a robust opposition, but a change that will be controlled tightly within the party. “What this confirms is that the old guard has gotten too old,” says Gomez.

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