Fidel Castro has made what is likely to be his final speech to Cuba’s Congress, telling the assembled politicians that he would die soon but that the revolution’s ideals would live on.
The 89-year-old spoke after his brother Raul, 84, was re-elected as head of the Communist party – a position the younger Castro has said he will hold until retiring in 2018.
And Fidel Castro said the time was approaching for a younger generation to take over. His declaration appeared to be less of an announcement that he was dying – he has been suffering from intestinal problems since the early 2000s – than a statement of obvious fact.
“I’ll be 90 years old soon,” he said. “Soon I’ll be like all the others.”
The Congress, which is held every five years, saw most of the senior leadership remain in place. Jose Ramon Machado, Raul Castro’s hardline 85-year-old deputy, was re-elected. Miguel Diaz-Canel, the 55-year-old seen as the likeliest candidate to take over from the president in two years time, remained in his place but was not promoted.
Raul Castro opened the Congress last week with the pledge that, from now on, leaders of the party will have to retire at 70.
He has called for sweeping changes in the management of Cuba’s economy. But he said the next five years would be for transition, and such rules would not be fully applied until then.
And Fidel Castro said that the next time the Congress was held, in 2021, there would be a new leadership in place.
“This seventh congress will be the last one led by the historic generation,” said Fidel, to roars of approval from the Havana hall.
“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 fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need – and we need to fight without truce to obtain them.”
Last month President Barack Obama became the first US leader in 88 years to visit Cuba, but he did not meet with Fidel.
The elder Castro issued a strongly-worded rebuke to the US after Mr Obama had left, saying Cuba did not need their help and would continue with their Communist ideals.