14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, April 19, 2021 — The most striking development of the Eighth Communist Party Congress, which concludes on Monday after a four-day meeting with hardly any news, will be the retirement, at least officially, of the old guard. For the first time, no one with the last name Castro will hold a senior position. Additionally, the position of second secretary will be dissolved. The entire senior leadership of the Party Congress will leave office and more than 20% of Politburo members will be new.
The Central Committee will add fifty-five new faces — among the standouts are Manuel Marrero and Lázaro Álvarez Casas — who will also join the Politburo. Among the new members is a former-spy: Gerardo Hernández Nordelo. The military will gain nine new generals.
The list of those leaving comes to eighty-eight, all members of the so-called historical generation (Raúl Castro, Ramiro Valdés, Guillermo García, Leopoldo Cintra Frías, Julio Camacho Aguilera and Ramón Pardo Guerra), and some “younger ones” such as Mercedes López Acea, Rodrigo Malmierca and Víctor Fidel Gaute López.
One unsurprising Politburo appointment is General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, head of Gaesa, the military consortium that controls a significant portion of the island’s tourism-related business and other strategic sectors. Analysts had long been predicting that Raúl Castro’s former son-in-law would be promoted to a position near the pinnacle of Cuban leadership.
The appointment of López-Calleja to the Politburo — the most senior position in the Communist Party held by any family member, at least in an official, public way — represents a gesture of defiance towards Washington. Last September the U.S. Office for Control of Foreign Assets added him to its list of “blocked persons.”
Among the most significant departures is that of Marino Murillo, whom the foreign press had dubbed “the czar of economic reforms” and who headed the Commission for Regulatory Implementation and Development. A civil servant, he was the face of currency unification, a package of monetary reforms that began taking effect in January.
However, popular dissatisfaction could have been the cause of his fall from grace, as outlined in a report in which it was claimed the commission “did not manage to adequately coordinate the participation of different actors involved in the implementation of the regulations and assumed functions that exceeded the mandate given it by Congress.”
Among the new additions is TV presenter Humberto López, whose career had a meteoric rise last year when he went from anchoring the first newscast of the day to hosting the program Hacemos Cuba, which focused on attacking independent activists, artists and journalists.
López has been routinely denounced on social media for smear campaigns for which his targets have no right of reply. The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba also recently added him to its database of “violent Cuban repressors.”
There has also be a change in overall numbers. Counting the fourteen members of the Politburo and five in the Secretariat, the Central Committee now has 114 members, down from the previous 145 members, a significant reduction in the typically bloated party bureaucracy.
But what has been most discussed is the abolition of the post of second-secretary of the Politiburo, a position that until yesterday was held by the veteran and very orthodox José Ramón Machado Ventura. A novelty unique to Cuban communism that did not exist in any other Soviet bloc country, its phase-out may be due to the fact that it was an invention by Fidel Castro who, with his brother in a position of such close proximity, was looking for a way to protect his back.
Now, with the departure of Raúl Castro as head of the Communist Party, it makes no sense to preserve the position. And finding someone who would be sufficiently trustworthy would be a difficult proposition.
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