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Cuba’s Raul Castro confirms he’s stepping down as head of Communist Party



Raul Castro confirmed Friday he is stepping down as the head of the Communist Party of Cuba, the most powerful position on the island.

During a speech on the first day of the Communist Party’s eighth congress, he said he would hand over power to a younger generation that is “full of passion and anti-imperialist spirit.”

“I believe fervently in the strength and exemplary nature and comprehension of my compatriots, and as long as I live, I will be ready with my foot in the stirrups to defend the fatherland, the revolution and socialism,” Castro told party delegates at the closed-door meeting at a convention center in Havana.

He was retiring, Castro said, with the sense of having “fulfilled his mission and confident in the future of the fatherland.”

Though there are few expectations of significant change among Cubans, it is however a historic move — Castro and his late brother, Fidel Castro, have been in power since the 1959 revolution.

Though Castro did not name his successor during the speech, it’s expected that a subsequent vote will ratify President Miguel Díaz-Canel as the next party secretary-general and set policy guidelines.

Raul Castro had said in 2018 he expected Díaz-Canel to replace him after his retirement in 2021. Díaz-Canel, 60, represents a new generation and is serving the first of two five-year terms as president.

Many analysts believe Castro, who turns 90 in June, will continue to be the most influential figure on the island until his death.

In Cuba, major events are put together during historic celebrations and this year’s congress is no exception. It coincides with the 60th anniversary of the failed, CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion.

Castro’s retirement comes as Cuba, one of the last communist run-countries in the world, is facing multiple challenges. Its economy shrank 11 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic, and it’s been grappling with tightened U.S. sanctions and a decline in aid from its ally, Venezuela. The government lacks hard currency to import food and medicine, which means endless lines outside stores when food becomes available, and one meal a day for some families.

The country is also dealing with a spike in Covid-19 cases. Strict lockdowns and measures have kept the numbers of cases and deaths below those of most countries in the region, but they have also tested the patience of many Cubans. Cuba has developed five vaccine candidates and two are in late-stage trials.

The country’s challenges have led to public discontent at levels rarely seen since the 1959 communist revolution. Mobile internet has allowed videos of protests to quickly spread among Cubans and also helped activists mobilize. A large protest in November by artists demanding greater freedom of expression made headlines across the globe.

President Joe Biden campaigned on reversing some of the previous administration’s harsh measures, such as limits on remittances and restricted travel to the island by Americans while focusing on human rights. But so far, administration officials have indicated they won’t be making changes anytime soon. Juan Gonzalez, executive director of the National Security Council, said recently that the “political moment” has changed from the Obama administration years and that “oppression against Cubans is worse today than perhaps during the Bush years.”

Disenchantment in the island over the country’s centrally planned system, stagnant economy and decaying infrastructure has been brewing for years, especially among younger Cubans. During the Communist Party’s congress in 2011, a set of ambitious economic reforms were promised that have not been fully implemented.

Fidel Castro and Raul Castro wave during the annual May Day parade in Revolution Plaza in Havana, May 1, 1973.Cristoval Pascual / AP

Victoria Hernández 37, an entrepreneur who sells products such as hangers and batteries in East Havana, says she does not expect much from the congress.

“I think our officials should change their mentality more to improve things. Right now what we’re thinking about is food. I want to also think about having a car, a better house,” she said.

Need for economic reform

But some experts believe Castro’s move is important in order to speed up economic reforms. This involves strategic decisions in order to keep the public more content without ceding the tight grip the party has over society.

Arturo López-Levy, a professor at Holy Names University in California, thinks the economic reforms will gain traction once the pandemic is under control.

“What is happening now is a new generation is consolidating control,” he said. “Now they will be forced to make important reforms, because their legitimacy doesn’t come from a revolutionary background, but from being capable of showing better performance.”

He said there aren’t high expectations among Cubans because the country “will remain a Leninist system and that basically means the political monopoly of the Communist Party.”

Fabio Fernández, a history professor at the University of Havana, often quoted in the Communist Party newspaper Granma, says it’s important for the party to move forward, fulfill the economic reforms it promised over a decade ago, and make political changes without abandoning its socialist system.

“A new concept of Cuban socialism is what we need to adopt because the old one no longer works,” he said.

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Hartlepool humiliation looms for Starmer – Ex-Labour MP condemns Remainer nomination



SIR Keir Starmer will only have himself to blame if Labour loses today’s Hartlepool by-election – because the party opted to field an ardent Remainer in a constituency which voted heavily to Leave in 2016, Kate Hoey has said.

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With Liz Cheney’s imminent ouster, the GOP’s surrender to Trump is complete



WASHINGTON — Republicans blame Liz Cheney for dividing the GOP, saying she’s preventing the party from having a unified message and from focusing on the 2022 midterms.

“Combating Joe Biden. … That’s the message we should be talking about. I haven’t heard members concerned about [Cheney’s] vote on impeachment, it’s more concerned about the job ability to do and what’s our best step forward that we can all work together instead of attacking one another,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on “Fox” this week.

But Liz Cheney isn’t the one searching for bamboo fibers in Arizona, or blaming Mike Pence for losing the White House, or pointing the finger at Mitch McConnell over losing control of the U.S. Senate or still insisting the GOP won the 2020 presidential election.

That person is Donald Trump.

We’ve written a lot about how Trump continues to drive and influence the Republican Party, despite no longer holding office, despite declining poll numbers and despite no longer holding social-media megaphones on Facebook and Twitter.

But this week feels … different. It appears to represent the party’s 100 percent surrender to Trump, a surrender to his lie that he won the 2020 election, and a surrender to his insistence that all GOP critics must be purged.

And as we said earlier this week, it’s an ominous development for democracy when the people who are paying a political price are the ones who have told the truth about the 2020 election, who did their jobs in administering the election and who remain haunted by what happened on Jan. 6.

The person who still hasn’t paid a price — even after losing office, even after a second impeachment — is the former president.

What Trump said on January 6

For all of the attention on Facebook’s oversight board upholding its ban on Trump, as well as asking Facebook to revisit the ban in six months, what’s gotten lost is its description of how Trump used the platform on Jan. 6:

“The Board found that the two posts by Mr. Trump on January 6 severely violated Facebook’s Community Standards and Instagram’s Community Guidelines. ‘We love you. You’re very special’ in the first post and ‘great patriots’ and ‘remember this day forever’ in the second post violated Facebook’s rules prohibiting praise or support of people engaged in violence.”

“The Board found that, in maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr. Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible. At the time of Mr. Trump’s posts, there was a clear, immediate risk of harm and his words of support for those involved in the riots legitimized their violent actions. As president, Mr. Trump had a high level of influence. The reach of his posts was large, with 35 million followers on Facebook and 24 million on Instagram.”

“Given the seriousness of the violations and the ongoing risk of violence, Facebook was justified in suspending Mr. Trump’s accounts on January 6 and extending that suspension on January 7.”

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Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

54 percent: The share of public elementary and middle schools offering full-time classroom learning to any student who wants it, per a new Department of Education study.

32,714,193: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 46,239 more than yesterday morning.)

583,293: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 584 more than yesterday morning.

249,566,820: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

29.8 percent: The share of Americans who are fully vaccinated

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French boats FLEE: Map shows vessels leave Jersey after intense Brexit blockade



FRENCH boats have left Jersey following a bitter Brexit blockade of the island’s capital port today, tracking data has shown.

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