Cuban communists opt for old guard to lead party

HAVANA, (Reuters) – Cuba’s Communist Party chose  the old guard to oversee a new economic course for the  Caribbean island today, selecting President Raul Castro  and First Vice President Jose Machado Ventura to lead the  country’s highest political body.
The choice of Castro, who replaces his older brother Fidel  Castro as first secretary of the ruling party’s Central  Committee, was expected.
But Machado Ventura’s appointment as second secretary would  likely disappoint Cubans and others hoping for new blood at the  top of one of the last communist states in the world. He is  viewed as a hardline communist ideologue.
The two aging communists will preside over the  implementation of wide-ranging reforms to the island’s  struggling Soviet-style economy approved on Monday at the  party’s first congress in 14 years.
Castro, 79, and Machado Ventura, 80, fought in Cuba’s 1959  revolution and head the aging revolutionaries who have run the  government for more than half a century since they helped  topple U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Machado Ventura is a medical doctor who joined the Castro  brothers early in their campaign from the Sierra Maestra  mountains.
As first vice president of Cuba’s Council of State, he is  first in line to succeed Raul Castro should the latter leave  office.
Raul Castro said 15 people, including him and Machado  Ventura, had been named to the powerful Political Bureau. Only  three of them were new — reforms czar Marino Murillo, first  secretary of the Communist Party in Havana Mercedes Lopez Acea,  and Economy Minister Adel Izquierdo Rodriguez.
Former President Fidel Castro, 84, who had already said he  had relinquished the first secretary position five years ago,  made his first appearance at the congress. Wearing a blue gym  suit, he had to be helped to his seat at the front of the  congress.
While the reforms approved at the congress are the biggest  changes to Cuba’s economy in decades, the leadership issue has  loomed large at the four-day gathering since Raul Castro said  in a speech on Saturday the party was considering limiting  future leaders, including himself, to two five-year terms.

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