Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Raul Castro consolidates power in Cuba

Raul Castro consolidates power in Cuba
Tue 29 Apr 2008, 16:58 GMT
By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban President Raul Castro has reorganized the
Communist Party's leadership and consolidated his power as he pushes
through reforms two months after succeeding his ailing brother Fidel Castro.

In a speech to the party's Central Committee published by Cuba's
official media on Tuesday, the younger Castro announced a new
seven-member executive committee would preside over the all-powerful
Political Bureau.

He also called a party Congress in late 2009, the first in more than a
decade, to discuss the future of socialism in Cuba.

Since he was installed as Cuba's first new leader in almost half a
century in February, the 76-year-old Raul Castro has lifted a series of
restrictions on daily life in Cuba, from owning cell phones and buying
computers to entering tourist hotels.

He has also decentralized agriculture and given greater autonomy to
private farmers, commuted the death sentences of common criminals and in
early March signed two important United Nations human rights agreements
long opposed by his brother.

All the changes are aimed at strengthening communist rule.

"The pragmatism of Raul Castro will continue to be the keynote of his
approach, and reforms will continue to be introduced, and greater
efficiency and productivity increasingly demanded," said John Kirk, a
historian at Dalhousie University in Canada.

"This promises to be a period of significant change, designed to shore
up the revolutionary process while using radically different
strategies," Kirk said.


Raul Castro's announcement of a Political Bureau executive committee and
its members was a first since the party's founding in 1975, though an
informal one may have existed around Fidel Castro, who took power in a
1959 revolution.

The committee is made up of Raul Castro's most trusted confidants with
an average age of more than 70 and decades of service to the Castro

Raul Castro will lead the committee and the six other members are the
same men picked as the vice presidents of the Council of State, the
government's top executive body, when he took over as president in February.

Cubans, many of whom remain loyal to Fidel Castro, have responded
positively to the changes initiated by his brother, insisting they are
simply a continuation and strengthening of the revolution.

Others see a marked change in leadership style since Raul Castro took over.

"The period of inventing solutions, of improvising is over," Havana
handyman Jorge Hidalgo said.

Raul Castro said a series of appointments made by Fidel Castro when he
was sidelined by illness in July 2006, were no longer valid.

"The accords we have approved put an end to the provisional period begun
on July 31, 2006 with the proclamation of the Commander in Chief," he said.

Fidel Castro, 81, still holds the powerful position of first secretary
of the Communist Party, although Raul Castro's speech left no doubt that
he is now fully in charge.

"The Raulista model is in part the institutionalization of the
Revolution," said Frank Mora, a national security and Cuba expert at the
National War College in Washington. "Moving away from voluntarism,
mobilization, and improvisation that characterized Fidelismo toward more
regular, predictable and bureaucratic forms of governance."

Fidel Castro has not appeared in public since he underwent intestinal
surgery from which he has never fully recovered. His condition and
whereabouts are state secrets.

Fidel Castro recently wrote that he is consulted on all important
matters and retains great influence over decisions.

(Editing by Anthony Boadle and Kieran Murray)

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