Castro vows to limit Cuban political terms

President reiterates pledge to keep terms – including his – to 10 years, in speech marking end of Communist Party forum.

Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo reports on the conference from Havana, Cuba

Cuban President Raul Castro has reiterated a pledge to limit political terms in office to 10 years, as the country’s Communist Party ended its two-day national conference in Havana.

In a closing speech to the party’s delegates on Sunday, Castro said a constitutional amendment would be required, but that leaders should begin to adopt the practice even before it formally takes effect.

The 80-year-old leader has spoken previously about limiting high-ranking officials, including himself to two, five-year terms.

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By Teresa Bo in The Americas Blog Teresa Bo

“We can begin implementing this slowly without waiting for a constitutional reform” that is legally necessary, Castro, told the conference trying to re-energise a party that has run the country uncontested for five decades, but is under mounting pressure to boost the rate of change.

Castro, who has led Cuba since his brother Fidel stepped aside during a 2006 health crisis, also used the speech to issue a defence of the one-party political system.

“To renounce the principle of a one-party system would be the equivalent of legalising a party, or parties, of imperialism on our soil,” he said.

He criticised the United States’ democratic system, which he said only concentrated power in the hands of the wealthy. He said that though Cuba had only one party, it sought the participation of all citizens through party and workplace meetings.

“We must promote democracy in our society, starting with the party,” he said, urging members to speak up when they disagree with something.

‘Unfounded optimism’

The meeting was a follow-up to last April’s historic party summit where delegates green-lighted fledgling reforms, opening up long-shut doors of economic opportunity.

But, while the government has essentially followed through on its economic promises with things like liberalising home and car sales, expanding private-sector activity and offering loans to support farmers, entrepreneurs and homeowners, expectations were soon dashed that this weekend would yield any blockbuster announcements.

“The expectations were high because this conference was perceived as an act of continuity with relation to the 6th Congress, as a space to complete the economic adjustment with complementary political reforms,” said Cuban-born economist Arturo Lopez-Levy, a lecturer at the University of Denver.

“It became clear that that vision was unfoundedly optimistic.”

Foreign journalists were not allowed access, and limited coverage was available through the island’s official media.

Silent changes

Recently a Cuban official told The Associated Press news agency that despite the lack of movement in visible roles like cabinet ministers, many mid-level government posts have quietly changed hands, with younger officials moving up.

Many of Cuba’s youth say they would like to see new faces in government [Al Jazeera]

If true, that would bolster Raul Castro’s claim that his government was laying the groundwork, albeit slowly, for generational change. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the matter publicly, and his assertions could not be independently confirmed.

Communist Party newspaper Granma said on Saturday that delegates would consider how best to promote women, blacks and young people through the ranks of the party and government.

They will also evaluate the party’s role in “the direction and systematic control of the process of updating the economic model and the progress of the economy”, Granma reported.

The Communist Party, the only party allowed in Cuba, does not have lawmaking powers but issues guidelines that are later taken up by parliament.

Many Cubans were disappointed last month when authorities scuttled a proposal to eliminate the exit visa required for travel off the island.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies