Fidel Castro steps down as Cuba party head
Raul Castro younger brother of Fidel elected as head of the country's highest political body and only legal party.
Havana: Cuba's Communist Party elected President Raul Castro on Tuesday to succeed his older brother Fidel Castro as head of the country's highest political body and only legal party.
Fidel Castro made an unexpected appearance on the last day of the crucial Communist Party congress that also approved sweeping economic reforms.
The two brothers, who have rarely appeared together since Fidel Castro fell ill in 2006 and was forced to hand power to Raul Castro, grabbed hands at the end of the closing ceremony, sending a strong message of unity.
The delegates also selected one of Raul Castro's closest, but aging allies, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura to the number two position.
That could come as a disappointment to some who had hoped Raul Castro would follow through on his call for a rejuvenation of top posts.
Last month, Fidel Castro took Cubans by surprise when he announced that he had resigned as first secretary of the Communist Party five years earlier and had no intention of resuming the post.
Even as this latest congress began, on the party's web page, Fidel Castro was listed as first secretary.
The congress also approved more than 300 economic and political proposals made by Raul Castro, including massive layoffs in the public sector and an expansion of the private sector to soak up some of the unemployed.
They also approved reforms to allow Cubans to buy and sell homes and cars for the first time in decades and for the gradual elimination of the ration book.
During the closing session, Raul Castro sat next to his ailing brother, who took halting steps to reach his chair.
"Fidel, what a pleasure to have you here," said Julio Camacho Aguilera, a member of the Central Committee, to applause from delegates at the Palace of Conventions here. "Although you never left -- you will always be in the hearts of all Cubans."
But the elder Castro, known for his lengthy speeches, did not take a turn at the microphone. "He's being eased to the sidelines," said Prof. Bruce Bagley, said chairman of the Department of International Studies at the University of Miami in Florida.
"Raul is the heir apparent and is consolidating his power and bringing in people around him with whom he has some confidence and some degree of trust, so the transition to the next generation is glacially slow. And that's what the Sixth Party Congress is reflecting."
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