BOGOTA, Colombia

Raul Castro announced on Friday that he is stepping down as First Secretary of the Communist Party (PCC). 

“My task as first secretary of the Central Committee of the PCC concludes with the satisfaction of having fulfilled [my mission] and confidence in the future of the fatherland,” Castro said during the VIII Congress of the party.

The retirement of Castro, who is about to turn 90, marks the end of the Castro era on the island after Fidel Castro’s death in 2016.

“I fervently believe in the strength and value of the example and understanding of my compatriots, and as long as I live I will be ready to defend the fatherland, the revolution and socialism.”

Castro said he had faith in the new generation that is “full of passion and anti-imperialist spirit.”

He is expected to be replaced by Miguel Diaz-Canel who took over as president in 2018.

“Dreaming and continuing a country,” Diaz-Canel said on Twitter. It is “the congress of continuity,” he added, noting that the socialist model that was implemented will not be changed.

The meeting comes amid a surge in the coronavirus pandemic and the tightening of a US decades-old trade embargo on Cuba, which has plunged the nation of 11 million into a brutal economic crisis.

The economy on the island shrank 11% in 2020 and many Cubans spend hours in food and medicine lines while the country faces its worst outbreak of the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, which has infected more than 90,000 people and killed 500.

Diaz-Canel has been pushing drastic economic reforms since January, including establishing a single currency for residents and foreigners.

Along with Castro, other names from the generation of the 1959 revolution are retiring, including the Communist Party’s number two, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura.

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