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A SPECIAL SECTION: Haiti, Since the January 12, 2010 Fierce Earthquake

Posted Tuesday, April 19, 2011 

Cuba Lays Foundation for a New Leader


HAVANA — Cuba made the most significant change to its leadership since the 1959 revolution on Tuesday, possibly setting the stage for a post-Castro era by naming someone other than Fidel or Raúl to the second-highest position in the Communist Party for the first time.

Javier Galeano/Associated Press

José Ramón Machado, left, was applauded by Fidel Castro after being given the second-highest position in the Communist Party.

The appointment, at the party’s first congress in 14 years, coincided with a blizzard of changes allowing more private enterprise that, taken together, are meant to pull the revolution out of a midlife crisis that has led to a sinking economy and even — in the estimation of President Raúl Castro — stagnant thinking.

With Fidel Castro, 84, looking on but silent, dressed in a blue warm-up suit over a checkered shirt and helped at times by aides when he stood to clap, his 79-year-old brother took the top position of the party and read off a list of leadership changes that made official Fidel Castro’s departure from the ranks of the party he founded. The longtime leader, who was warmly cheered by party members, had announced last month he was no longer first secretary of the party, but his name still appeared on lists.

The new No. 2, who will be closely watched as a possible next president, is not the young-up-and-comer President Castro had hinted might ascend as he called for a rejuvenation of the political system. Instead, he tapped a party stalwart and fellow combatant in the revolution, José Ramón Machado, 80, who fought at his side in the mountains during the rebellion 50 years ago.

President Castro did, however, name several people younger than 70 to the central committee and three to the 15-member politburo, possibly grooming them for bigger roles in the future.

The president, aside from offering the usual lashing words toward the United States, portrayed the changes as an upgrade of Cuban socialism, rather than a reboot that would open the way to full-on capitalism.

“I assume my post to defend, preserve and continue perfecting socialism, and never permit the return of capitalism,” the president said in a speech closing the congress

But analysts said it was clear the president trusted the old guard bound firmly to the revolution to guide any economic reforms, which could include the buying and selling of homes, banned since the revolution, and the eventual elimination of state subsidies such as ration books. The congress approved over 300 modifications, without releasing details, and sent them to the national assembly for widely expected ratification.

“What it means is any generational change and the implementation of reforms will be guided by the historicos — or perhaps better put, constrained by the history of the Cuban revolution and the memories and goals of its founders,” said Christopher Sabatini, a Cuba scholar who edits Americas Quarterly.

© 2011 The New York Times Company. Reprinted from The New York Times, International, of Tuesday, April 19, 2011.

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