HAVANA (AP) — Fidel Castro sought Wednesday to explain his peculiar revelation that he has not been in charge of Cuba’s Communist Party for the past five years — a role he was widely thought to still hold.
The 84-year-old former Cuban leader said in a new opinion piece that it never occurred to him to formally resign, since he had already turned power over to his brother provisionally in 2006 after he fell gravely ill.
“When I slowly and partially recovered my health, it never crossed my mind that I needed to formally and expressly resign from any position,” Castro writes in the column, which was published by Cuban state-media.
Castro’s belated announcement surprised many. No Cuban official has ever sought to clarify that the revolutionary icon no longer held the top Communist Party spot, and the party website still lists him as first secretary.
And though Castro says in the new opinion piece that he never felt the need to formally step down from any official position, he did just that in February 2008 when he announced he would not accept a new term as president.
A few days later, Cuba’s parliament formally named Raul Castro to that spot, though he remained second secretary of the Communist Party — at least officially.
In Wednesday’s piece, Castro says his decision to step down from both roles was made easier because Raul was ready to assume leadership, having served as his right-hand man since their 1959 revolution toppled Fulgencio Batista.
“There was a substitute for both positions, not by virtue of a family connection … but rather due to experience and merit,” Castro wrote, adding that he always considered leadership of the Communist Party to be a more important job than president.
While the government historically has focused on the day-to-day running of the country, the party is tasked with guiding the Cuban people on their path to communism. In practice, no major policy can be passed without the party first agreeing.
Fidel’s announcement comes just weeks ahead of a crucial Communist Party Congress in which economic changes pushed by Raul will be enshrined, and in which a new party leadership should be named.
While Raul is expected to move up to the top spot, observers will be intently watching to see who takes over the No. 2 position — a relatively young leader who might eventually succeed the brothers, or an old-guard revolutionary who has been with them since the beginning.