Havana--Raul Castro delivered a hard hitting speech to the opening session of the 6th Communist Party Congress in Cuba on Saturday afternoon. Castro told delegates that no elected leader in the government or the Party should serve more than two five-year mandates, a major policy shift for the island where Fidel Castro reigned as Cuba's President and top Party leader for more than five decades.
He also called on the Party to get out of the management of the economy and government administration, saying it is a political movement that should have a moral influence on society.
Castro, who formally took over the country's presidency from his older brother Fidel in 2008, harshly criticized the leadership's failure to promote young people who could step in to take over responsibility from the nation's aging rulers. He stressed that Cuba now faces the consequences of that mistake as it deals with the lack of a reserve of young people who could step in.
Deficiencies in the performance of Communist Party members and opportunism among some were noted by Castro, who went on to say that being a member of the Party or Communist youth organization is not requisite to make someone eligible for a leadership position. He also described as "shameful" the revolution's failure to guarantee the advancement of women, blacks and other minorities despite it being a principle that was put forth as far back as the First Party Congress nearly 36 years ago.
Raul Castro, who is expected to be replace Fidel as First Secretary of the Party officially during the four-day Congress, addressed a number of the population's economic concerns: He reaffirmed that the system of highly subsidized ration books for basic foodstuffs would have to go because it is simply unsustainable, but at the same time said "shock methods" would not be applied; He said the small private sector must be supported and promoted, but reiterated that the "accumulation of private property" would not be permitted; and he added that the party's leaders had not finished but were working on drafting the juridical basis for the purchase and sale of homes and cars (currently prohibited), for the leasing of larger amounts of fallow state-owned lands to private individuals, and for the distribution of micro-credits to the self-employed.
The elimination of the ration book, or "libretta," said Castro, provoked the most debate during the discussions of proposed economic changes leading up to the present Congress, pointing out that two generations of Cubans have lived under this paternalistic system that not only is now unaffordable but which has, according to Castro, contributed to people's failure to understand that if they want to eat they need to work and to produce.
Castro also stressed the need to end the excessive centralization of the economy and reminded the gathering that the Communist Party does not have the right or function to pass laws, but can only recommend them to parliament.
At the end of the two-and-a-half hour inauguration--most of which was taken up by Castro's speech--the Cuban President and top Party leader said the Congress, which is determining the restructuring of the economy over the next five years, would resume Sunday and wind up on Tuesday.