Posted on Thu, Jul. 06, 2006
Younger party zealots the face of post-Fidel Cuba
Cuba's Communist Party appeared to be laying the groundwork for a future without Fidel Castro.
BY FRANCES ROBLES
A shake-up unseen in more than 10 years is under way in the Cuban Communist Party, in what experts say is a sign that Havana is anxious to lay the foundation for a strong, communist post-Castro Cuba.
The party leadership announced Tuesday that it had resurrected its secretariat, a policy-implementing group that was abolished 15 years ago, officially for financial reasons. Tapped for the new board: longtime party stalwarts who represent a younger generation of Fidel Castro's revolution.
The move underscores the Cuban government's desire to strengthen ruling institutions for a future when a government currently so dependent on the 79-year-old Castro is no longer possible.
Several of the new secretariat members were provincial leaders who were replaced in May, at that time fueling speculation of a purge. But experts say that was, in fact, the preparation of a promotion of new leaders.
''They are reorganizing,'' said Alcibiades Hidalgo, a former Cuban diplomat and chief of staff to Defense Minister Raúl Castro. ``This is not a purge. They are preparing a party that has been asleep for 15 years.''
The moves came during a party meeting held Saturday, but they were not announced until Tuesday. The party's newspaper, Granma, said Castro presided over the meeting and will head the secretariat along with his brother, Raúl.
One of the 10 other new members is José R. Machado Ventura, 75, right-hand man to Raúl Castro. The others include three women: María del Carmen Concepción González, party first secretary in Pinar del Río province; Mercedes López Acea, first secretary in Cienfuegos; and Lina Pedraza Rodríguez, ex-minister of audits and oversight.
Cuban government leaders have cautioned in recent months that the revolution has failed to capture the nation's youth. The new personnel changes appear aimed at grooming younger officials, with even Fidel Castro himself recently noting that his designated successor, Raúl, just turned 75.
But while many of the new members are in their 50s and considerably younger than the Castro brothers, experts noted that they also are longtime party favorites.
''They are not the youngest generation,'' Hidalgo said. ``They have a lot of experience and are not at all inclined to changes.''
Domingo Amuchastegui, a former Cuban intelligence officer who defected in 1994, said the new committee members represent the ''middle generation'' -- people born into the revolution and tapped for leadership positions since their youth.
''These are people with a definite mind-set,'' he said. ``The idea is to strengthen the party and offer a message of institutionalism, that Cuba is not going to replace one caudillo for another.''
The party also announced several new members of its central committee and the removal of former Basic Industries Minister Marcos Portal León, who was fired earlier this year from the ruling Politburo. Several experts noted that such moves were particularly important considering the party has not held a nationwide party congress in nearly 10 years.
Some analysts viewed this week's announcements as steps toward reconvening a party convention.
''The party has been adrift for a number of years,'' said Dan Erikson, a Cuba analyst with the InterAmerican Dialogue in Washington. ``If there are changes in Cuba and the party is weak and disorganized, that does not do much for a succession process. It has to be a concern.''