- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2011

HAVANA | Raul Castro was named first secretary of Cuba’s Communist Party on Tuesday, with his aging brother, Fidel, not included in the leadership for the first time since the party’s creation 46 years ago.

Despite raising hopes during the gathering that a new generation of leaders was poised to take up important positions, the island’s president announced that Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, an 80-year-old longtime confidant, would be his No. 2.

Ramiro Valdes, a 78-year-old vice president, was named to the No. 3 spot. Several younger politicians were added to the 15-member leadership group, but in lesser positions.

Fidel Castro made a surprise appearance at the gathering, receiving thunderous applause from the 1,000 delegates assembled in a vast convention center in the capital, Havana.

Many could be seen crying as the man who led the 1959 revolution to overthrew Fulgencio Batista was helped to his place on stage by a young aide, then stood at attention next to his brother during the playing of Cuba’s national anthem.

While Fidel has appeared in public many times since improved health allowed him to re-emerge from seclusion last summer, he has rarely been seen alongside his brother.

The revolutionary icon looked unsteady on his feet as he clutched the aide’s arm, and at times slumped in his chair. But he became more animated as the proceedings continued, especially when Raul’s name was read out by a party official announcing the members of the party’s Central Committee.

That larger group is tasked with picking the leadership council. For the first time since the party’s founding in 1965, Fidel was not included. He had revealed in March that he left the party’s top post when he fell gravely ill in 2006, and had never returned despite the fact he continued to be listed as leader.

As their names were called for membership in the Central Committee, each newly elected official stood up, revealing a mix of young and old, including many women and Cubans of African descent. There were also several generals and other senior armed forces officials.

Three relatively young people were elected to the more important leadership council, including Marino Murillo, a 50-year-old former economy minister who was recently promoted to a position that puts him in charge of implementing sweeping economic reforms. The current economy minister, Adel Izquierdo, also was named to the council, as was Lazara Mercedes Lopez Acea, the Communist Party chief in Havana.

The Congress also approved 300 economic proposals, though details have still not emerged. Apparently included in the measures is a recommendation to legalize the buying and selling of private property, which has been heavily restricted since the revolution.


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