Fidel Castro gives rare speech saying he's nearing the end

This may be one of the last times I speak in this room, Fidel Castro said.

Updated - November 26, 2016 01:25 pm IST

Published - April 20, 2016 07:24 am IST

“I’ll be 90 years old soon,” Fidel Castro said in his most extensive public appearance in years. “Soon I’ll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervour and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without a truce to obtain them.”

Mr. Castro spoke as the government announced that his brother Raul will retain the Cuban Communist Party’s highest post alongside his hardline second-in-command. That announcement and Mr. Castro’s speech together delivered a resounding message that the island’s revolutionary generation will remain in control even as its members age and die.

The government said Raul Castro (84) would remain the party’s first secretary and Jose Ramon Machado Ventura would hold the post of second secretary for at least part of a second five-year term.

Mr. Raul Castro currently is both president and party first secretary. The decision means he could hold a Communist Party position at least as powerful as the presidency even after he is presumably replaced by a younger president in 2018. Mr. Raul Castro indicated that he and Mr. Ventura may also step down before the next congress in 2021, saying this year’s was the last to be led by Cuba’s revolutionary generation.

Machado Ventura (85) who fought alongside the Castro brothers to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, is known as an enforcer of Communist orthodoxy and voice against some of the biggest recent economic reforms.

Shortly after the congress ended on Tuesday afternoon, government-run television showed rare images of 89-year-old Fidel Castro seated at the dais in Havana’s Convention Palace, dressed in a plaid shirt and sweat top and speaking to the crowd in a strong if occasionally trembling voice. State television showed at least one delegate tearful with emotion, and the crowd greeting the revolutionary leader with shouts of “Fidel!”

“This may be one of the last times I speak in this room,” Fidel Castro said. “We must tell our brothers in Latin America and the world that the Cuban people will be victorious.”

The party congress had been criticized for secrecy and a lack of discussion about substantive new reforms. Mr. Castro’s speech and his brother’s promise that more extensive public debate would come in the weeks and months after the congress appeared to have at least temporarily quelled discontent among the party ranks.

“The Cuban people are followers of Fidel and he’s a force that still has a lot of power,” said Francisco Rodrţguez, a party member who had publicly criticized the secrecy of the congress. “It’s easy to love Fidel now that he doesn’t have a public position. He’s a person who always had a coherent idea and that makes him an exalted figure.”

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