HAVANA – Cuba's provisional leader Raul Castro said in comments published Thursday he will delegate more duties and give fewer speeches than his "irreplaceable" brother Fidel, and further signaled a new leadership style by encouraging more public debate.
Showing that he may be more open to divergent opinions than his ailing 80-year-old brother, Raul Castro told a group of about 800 young Communist university leaders they should "fearlessly" engage in public debate and analysis, the Communist Party newspaper Granma said.
The elder Castro, who stepped aside almost five months ago after emergency intestinal surgery, for decades was Cuba's "Maximum Leader," characterized by meandering, hours-long speeches, unquestioned decision-making and micromanagement of government programs and policies.
The younger Castro said that as Cuba's long-serving defense minister he had learned to listen to and discuss differing ideas.
"The first principle in constructing any armed forces is the sole command. But that doesn't mean that we cannot discuss," he said, adding "that way we reach decisions, and I'm talking about big decisions."
Raul Castro also echoed his earlier insistence that neither he or any one individual could replace his brother. Although some Cuban officials have insisted Fidel Castro will return to power, they privately acknowledge that it is unlikely he come back in the same all-powerful role.
"Fidel is irreplaceable, save that we all replace him together, each one in his place" Granma quoted Raul Castro as telling the closing session of Cuba's University Student Federation annual congress. "The only substitute for Fidel can be the Communist Party of Cuba."
The 75-year-old Raul Castro also spoke of the need to promote younger people to start taking over for Cuba's aging leaders, many of whom are now in their 70s.
"We are finishing up the fulfillment of our duties and there has to be a slow opening up to the new generations," he said.
When Fidel Castro addressed the same congress last year, he also spoke of the need to nurture younger leaders for the future.
Cuba's unchallenged leader for 47 years, Fidel Castro announced on July 31 that he had undergone emergency intestinal surgery and was temporarily ceding power to his younger brother while he recovered.
Last seen in public on July 26, his medical condition has been kept as a state secret. The government has occasionally released official photographs and videos of him since then, and he appeared thin and frail in the last one seen in late October.
Cuban authorities have denied speculation by many, including U.S. intelligence officials, that Fidel Castro is suffering from cancer or some other terminal illness.
Some U.S. doctors have speculated that Castro could have diverticular disease, which can cause bleeding in the lower intestine, especially in people over age 60. In severe cases, emergency surgery may be required.