Raul Castro retains control of Communist Party; Fidel speaks about his legacy, death

Anyone who expected the thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States to lead the Castro regime to give way to younger, less autocratic leadership, will have to wait a few years longer.

Speaking at the end of the four-day-long Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuban President Raúl Castro said it would be the last such congress to be led “by the historic generation.”

Castro will retain the Cuban Communist Party's highest post of first secretary alongside his hardline second-in-command, José Ramón Machado Ventura, for a second term. Castro currently is both president and first secretary. The decision means he could hold a Communist Party position at least as powerful as the presidency even after he steps down from the government post in 2018, as he has said he would do.

Raúl’s older brother, Fidel, who led the 1959 revolution that brought Communist rule to the island, also appeared at Havana's Convention Palace, dressed in a plaid shirt and sweat top. He delivered a valedictory speech on Tuesday to the Communist Party he put in power a half-century ago, telling party members he would soon die and exhorting them to help his ideas survive.

"I'll be 90 years old soon," he said in his most extensive public appearance in years. "Soon I'll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without truce to obtain them."

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The country’s television stations showed a delayed, edited broadcast of the day's events.

While Raúl Castro had proposed a series of age and term limits designed to help usher some of the older leadership from power, he also made it clear that he would follow nobody else’s timetable on the matter.

"[We will] introduce the necessary changes without hurry and with no improvisation, which would only lead to failure," he said, according to Reuters.

The second-in-command, Machado Ventura, 85, is known as an enforcer of Communist orthodoxy and is a voice against some of the country's recent economic reforms. He fought alongside Fidel and Raúl to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Raul Castro's decision to remain in power alongside a man even he has criticized for rigidity capped a four-day meeting of the Communist Party notable for its secrecy and apparent lack of discussion about substantive new reforms to Cuba's stagnant centrally planned economy.

Esteban Morales, an intellectual and party member who complained about the secrecy of the congress, said he expected the first and second secretaries to remain in their positions only until Castro leaves the presidency in 2018, after what Morales called a necessary transition period.

Machado Ventura was vice president from Raul Castro's ascent in 2008 until 2013, when the post was taken by Miguel Díaz-Canel, widely seen as the country's likely next president. Machado Ventura was named second secretary in 2011 in a move seen as a way to placate and empower party hardliners.

Machado Ventura was often employed by the Castro brothers to impose order in areas seen as lacking discipline – most recently touring the country to crack down on private sellers of fruits, vegetables and other agricultural goods.

While Raul Castro opened Cuba's faltering agricultural economy to private enterprise, the government blames a new class of private farmers and produce merchants for a rise in prices.

Machado Ventura has been the public face of crackdown on what the government labels profiteering, but many outside economists say the problem is farms' inability to meet demand due to continued state control of supplies of machinery, fertilizers and other inputs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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