CUBA AFTER CASTROS
March 02, 2018 02:15 PM
Accustomed to reading between the lines, Cubans have been speculating about the fate of three “historic” revolutionary leaders — José Ramón Machado Ventura, Ramiro Valdés Menéndez and Guillermo García Frías — all of whom were honored in a recent ceremony.
Cuban leader Raúl Castro awarded the trio medals as “Heroes of Labor” during the Feb. 24 ceremony in Havana’s recently renovated Capitolo building, which serves as the new headquarters for the National Assemby. The awards generally indicate the honorees will soon retire from public life.
“This is goodbye,” Reinaldo Escobar, editor of the 14ymedio digital news page, told el Nuevo Herald during a Miami visit. “That would mean Ramiro Valdés, Machado Ventura and Guillermo García may be removed from the Council of State,” the executive body of the island's legislature, the National Assembly of People's Power.
Castro, 86, has promised to retire from the presidency of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers (the cabinet) in April, fueling intense interest in the succession. The newly elected National Assembly to be inaugurated in April will officially select the new Council of State.
“That award ceremony seems to show Raúl Castro's desire to leave his top government position not alone, but with his three old cronies,” former political prisoner René Gomez Manzano wrote in a column published in Cubanet, a digital news site. “If that was not the case, this solemn ceremony would not make much sense. In the Communist liturgy, awarding medals is usually the prologue for a demotion and retirement.”
Machado, 87, is considered a top influential figure. He was first vice president of the Council of State from 2008-2013 and remains second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) — both posts No. 2 to Castro. Machado and Valdés remain among the five vice presidents of the Council of State and sit on the PCC’s Political Bureau.
Valdés, 85, served many years as Minister of the Interior, in charge of domestic and national security and Cuba's intelligence services. García, 90, is a member of the Council of State and the PCC Central Committee.
Machado and Valdés are believed to be part of a conservative faction within the government that views with suspicion the reforms Castro launched after he replaced his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, such as improved U.S. relations.
Their departure might help to clear the way for Castro's successor as well as a reformist agenda to try fix the island's grave problems: an economy stalled by the crisis in Venezuela, the dual-currency system, an aged population, little foreign investments, tense relations with Washington and younger generations who want more change.
“The entire historic generation is retiring. That's what was planned. And that's healthy and important. Let a new generation of young people come up,” said someone close to the Cuban government who asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation. “Whomever becomes (Castro's successor), will be a great hope.”
Machado, Valdés and García all participated in the first stages of Fidel Castro's revolution and have held a series of top government jobs over the past 60 years. And, like Raúl Castro, they are all over the age of 85.
In recent years, Castro has been publicly adament that a generational change in the top leadership is needed to guarantee the continuity of the island's Communist system.
In 2013, Castro announced that he would retire in 2018, at the end of his second five-year-term, as president of the Council of State. Machado was then replaced as first vice president of the Council of State with Miguel Díaz-Canel, signaling that the 57-year-old engineer with a long history of PCC and government service could be Castro's successor.
During a PCC congress in 2016 Castro also proposed a maximum age of 70 and two terms for the party's Central Committee. Those changes were supposed to be part of a constitutional reform that never took place.