Cuban communists to announce new party leadership

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 19, 2011 9:35 AM
Cuban communists to announce new party leadership

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's ruling Communist Party was to unveil on Tuesday its newly elected leadership at the end of a congress that approved wide-ranging reforms to the island's struggling Soviet-style economy.

President Raul Castro, 79, was expected to succeed older brother Fidel Castro as party first secretary but the other posts will be closely watched for possible new blood to replace aging leaders in one of the world's last communist states.

Former President Fidel Castro, 84, who had already said he had relinquished the first secretary position five years ago, made clear he would not accept any party post.

Cuba's highest political body and only legal political party on Monday selected its new first and second secretaries, its Central Committee and powerful Political Bureau, but the results were not immediately announced.

There had been speculation Fidel Castro might be given some sort of honorary party title, but he wrote in a column in state media published on Tuesday: "I think I have received too many honors. I never thought I would live so many years."

"Raul knew that I would not accept at this time any position in the party," he wrote.

The elder Castro held the top job from the party's founding in 1965, but said last month he had resigned, without disclosing it publicly, when he fell seriously ill in 2006.

The former president was chosen as a delegate to the congress, but has not attended.

GROUND-BREAKING REFORMS

While the reforms approved are the biggest changes to Cuba's economy in decades, the leadership issue has loomed large at the four-day gathering since Raul Castro said in a speech on Saturday the party was considering limiting future leaders, including himself, to two five-year terms.

Fidel Castro ruled for 49 years before formally resigning the presidency in 2008. Raul Castro was his defense minister during that time and succeeded him as president.

A number of others in the leadership are in their 70s and 80s. The age issue is a concern because President Castro wants to make sure Cuban socialism survives after the current generation is gone.

Fidel Castro mentioned the proposed term limits in his column, saying it was one of the issues at the congress that most interested him.

The congress' approval of the package of more than 300 reforms had been widely expected because some have already begun, including the slashing of more than a million government jobs, allowing more self-employment and leasing state land to private farmers.

The reforms aim to cut spending by the debt-ridden government, cut subsidies, give more autonomy to state enterprises and encourage more foreign investment as part of a general overhaul of the economy.

In two of the bigger issues for average Cubans, the food ration all have received since 1963 will be phased out for those who do not need it and the buying and selling of homes will be permitted for the first time in many years.

Cubans are waiting to see if the government puts heavy restrictions on the latter.

Cuba's only political party is supposed to hold a congress every five years, but this was the first since 1997.

(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Mohammad Zargham)