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Old team retains Cuba reins

Cuba's Communist Party stuck Tuesday with a slate of silver-haired icons of the revolution to spearhead a last-ditch effort to save the island's sputtering economy -- surprising those who took to heart declarations by Raul and Fidel Castro that time had come to give way to a new generation of leaders.

Delegates to a key Party Congress picked Raul Castro, 79, to succeed his ailing brother at the helm, while weathered veterans moved up to the No. 2 and 3 positions. Three somewhat younger politicians were named to lesser roles in the leadership council, but it remained dominated by men who came of age before television, let alone the Internet.

Fidel Castro made a surprise appearance, to thunderous applause from delegates, many of whom could be seen crying as he was helped to his place on stage by a young aide, then stood at attention during Cuba's national anthem.

The revolutionary leader, 84, looked unsteady on his feet as he clutched the aide's arm and at times slumped in his chair. He became more animated as the proceedings continued, especially when Raul's name was read out by an official announcing members of the party's Central Committee. Fidel was left off the leadership slate for the first time.

But Raul said his brother needed no formal title to continue being the country's guiding light. "Fidel is Fidel," he said.

In a speech closing out the Congress, Raul acknowledged the lack of fresh faces, saying the country had failed to develop young leaders because of past errors, including those by him and his brother.

"We have kept various veterans of the historic generation, and that is logical due to the consequences of the mistakes that have been made in this area," Raul told 1,000 delegates gathered in a sprawling Havana convention center.

Named party second secretary was Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 80, a stalwart who set up field hospitals for the Castros when they were young rebels fighting to topple Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s. The No. 3 spot went to Ramiro Valdes, 78, a vice president who was with the brothers when they launched the revolution aboard the Granma yacht in 1956.

Cubans reacted with a mix of support and resignation.

"It's logical," said Reina Rosa, a 43-year-old Havana resident. Raul "had to put a man there [as second secretary] that he trusts completely, and there's none of those among the young people."

"It's the same thing with the same people," added Maria Rubio. "These old guys don't want to let go of power."

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