Cuban communists approve economic reforms

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 18, 2011 7:09 PM

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's Communist Party approved landmark economic reforms on Monday and voted for new leaders in a key party congress to chart Cuba's future, state-run media reported.

The Caribbean island's highest political body was to select new first and second secretaries, its Central Committee and powerful Political Bureau, but the results were not immediately disclosed.

The reforms represent the biggest changes to Cuba's Soviet-style economy in decades and are aimed at securing the future of socialism in one of the world's last communist states.

The congress' approval had been widely expected because some of the reforms are already in place.

The major changes include slashing government jobs, cutting subsidies, encouraging more private initiative and reducing state spending.

While President Raul Castro wants to ease the grip of the state over the economy, delegates made clear it would not disappear. They endorsed a planned economy and the country's principal means of production remaining in state hands.

In the party leadership vote, President Castro was expected to replace older brother Fidel Castro as first secretary, but the other posts will be closely watched for up-and-coming new party bosses to replace aging leaders.

The leadership issue has overshadowed the reforms, since Raul Castro said in a speech on Saturday the government was considering limiting future leaders, including himself, to two- five-year terms.

After taking power in the 1959 revolution he led, Fidel Castro, 84, ruled for 49 years before resigning the presidency in 2008. Raul Castro, 79, was his defense minister for all that time and replaced 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 ensure the survival of Cuban socialism after they are gone, but he admitted on Saturday they had done a poor job of grooming possible successors.

Fidel Castro chimed in with his support in a front page column in Communist party newspaper Granma, saying he had listened in on Sunday's meetings and was impressed.

"The new generation is called to rectify and change without hesitation all that must be rectified and changed, and to continue demonstrating that socialism is also the art of making the impossible happen," he said.

He described "the impossible" as "building and bringing about the revolution of the poor, by the poor and for the poor, and defending it for half a century from the most powerful military power that ever existed," referring to the United States. This is a long-standing maxim of the nationalist Cuban Revolution that Fidel Castro led in 1959.

Fidel Castro did not attend the congress opening. Foreign media were not allowed in to the Sunday sessions.

(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Cynthia Osterman)