HAVANA – Former President Raul Castro, who turned 88 on Monday, has kept a low profile since leaving office more than a year ago, but continues to influence Cuban politics as leader of the ruling Communist Party.
Castro, who stepped down on April 19, 2018, in favor of his protege, Miguel Diaz-Canel, has eschewed the limelight other than on major occasions such as the promulgation of Cuba’s new constitution in April and the official celebration of International Workers Day on May 1.
Diaz-Canel was among the high-ranking officials taking to social media on Monday to wish Gen. Castro a happy birthday.
Communist Party daily Granma, meanwhile, published excerpts of Castro’s speeches over the last three years under the heading: “We will not renounce any of our principles.”
On the day of Diaz-Canel’s inauguration, Raul Castro announced his intention to keep the position of Communist Party leader until 2021.
And in his first speech as president, Diaz-Canel said that his political mentor “will lead the decisions of the greatest transcendence for the present and future of the nation.”
Raul Castro took the reins in Cuba in the summer of 2006 – when older brother Fidel was struck by a grave illness – and formally assumed the presidency in 2008.
Immediately after abandoning the presidency, Raul set about the task of reforming the constitution to incorporate the steps he took during his 10 years as head of state to begin liberalizing the Cuban economy.
Though the drafting of the new charter involved some democratic elements, such as nationwide consultative gatherings where ordinary citizens were encouraged to share their ideas, the document maintains the Communist Party’s monopoly on political power.
Castro has also met with visiting officials from key Cuban allies such as Venezuela, Russia, China and Vietnam. On May 23, the former president received the deputy leader of North Korea’s ruling party, Ri Su-yong.
In his most recent speech, during the April 10 parliamentary ceremony marking the enactment of the new constitution, Castro urged Cubans to prepare “for the worst” in terms of the economy, acknowledging that the country was contending with its most severe financial squeeze in a decade.
Amid periodic speculation about his health, the general appeared hale and hearty on May Day.
Authorities disclosed in May 2018 that Raul had undergone a hernia operation. The revelation was apparently intended to explain his absence from public view in the wake of a plane crash in Havana that left 112 people dead.