Fidel Castro hails brother's call for change

Aging Cuban revolutionary praises Raul Castro's speech proposing economic major changes and term limits for leaders.

    Cuban leader missed the military parade at Revolution Plaza because he was not feeling well enough [AFP]

    Fidel Castro has applauded brother Raul's speech proposing major economic changes and term limits for Cuba's leaders, a key vote of confidence in the direction his brother is taking the country.

    In an opinion piece published on Sunday, the 84-year-old Cuban leader also apologised for not attending a military parade, which marked the 50th anniversary of the failed CIA-led invasion at the Bay of Pigs.

    "Raul Castro's recommendation ... to adopt the principles of term limits represents an historic step toward the creation of institutional and collective forms of leadership"

    Arturo Lopez-Levy,
    University lecturer

    "It has been worth the trouble to have lived to see today's events, and it is worth the trouble to always remember those who died to make them possible," Fidel wrote.

    He added that he felt proud of the direction his brother was taking the country and felt "the same feelings of pride" when he heard Raul's speech and saw the faces of the 1,000 Communist Party delegates who attended the speech.

    Castro missed the parade at Revolution Plaza because he was not feeling well enough to endure the heat.

    "I could have been at the Plaza, perhaps an hour in the blazing heat and sun, but not three," he wrote.

    "Believe me that I felt pain when I saw that some of you were looking for me on the dais. I thought everyone understood that I can no longer do what I have done so many times before."

    Fidel handed power over to his brother after falling gravely ill in 2006, and Raul took over formally two years later.

    In the last year, Raul, 79, has pushed a limited but significant opening to private enterprise, and said the government must decrease the labour force and reduce generous subsidies that are an impediment to hard work.

    'Historic step'

    In an address to the Cuban Communist Party congress on Saturday, the Cuban president added the call for political change to his agenda, saying politicians and other leading figures should be limited to two five-year terms, a remarkable statement on an island run by him and his brother for more than a half century.

    Raul acknowledged that errors have left Cuba with no obvious successor and promised to rejuvenate the island's political class in what time he has left.

    The term-limit proposal would mean there could be no repeat of the Castros' political dynasty, but it will have little practical impact on Raul's future.

    Having been sworn in in 2008, he would be at least 86 years old at the end of a second five-year term.

    "Raul Castro's recommendation ... to adopt the principles of term limits represents an historic step toward the creation of institutional and collective forms of leadership," Arturo Lopez-Levy, an economist who left Cuba in 2001 and is now a lecturer at the University of Denver, said.

    The proposal was made toward the end of a two-and-a-half-hour speech to Communist Party luminaries in which the Cuban leader forcefully backed a long list of changes to the country's socialist economic system, including the eventual elimination of ration books and other subsidies, the decentralisation of the island nation's economy and a new reliance on supply and demand in some sectors.

    He said the party is also far along in a study of whether to legalise the sale of cars and homes, which have been all but frozen since the revolution.

    Delegates to the Congress broke up into committees on Sunday to begin debating the changes behind closed doors before the gathering's scheduled end Tuesday, presumably with another speech by Raul.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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