Castro vows reforms 'without pause' for Cuba

Cubans who long ago lost faith that their country will change may reconsider after the first Communist Party Congress in 14 years opened in Havana on Saturday with a scolding from Raul Castro that the sclerotic habits of a geriatric government and a centrally planned economy must end.

Before it wraps up tomorrow, the Congress is expected to bring new faces into the top positions of the regime and approve a set of risky reforms first outlined last year to nudge Cuba towards a mixed economy with new measures to allow private enterprise and fewer state employees. Mr Castro's difficult mission: to save the Communist revolution of his brother, Fidel.

As if to underline his sincerity, Mr Castro, who replaced an ailing Fidel as Cuba's leader in 2007, startled many by proposing a system of term limits under which no one – including him – could serve in top positions for more than two successive five-year terms.

The term-limit proposal implies that Cuba is approaching a time when a Castro will not be at the helm. Yet some of the messages remained mixed. The Congress opened on a nostalgic note with a traditional Soviet-style military parade celebrating the 50th anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, when Cuban exiles backed by the CIA attempted to invade.

Mr Castro will be battling against bureaucratic inertia. His timetable for removing 1.1 million Cubans from the state payroll has already been extended and he admitted the process might take five years: the changes will come "without hurry but without a pause".

Other steps likely to be rubber-stamped this week include a new push to issue licences to ordinary Cubans for opening private enterprises, a shift that will be more necessary as state jobs are taken away. About 200,000 of those licences have already been given out, Mr Castro said. He is also intent on increasing the leasing of state land to farmers in an attempt to boost dismal agricultural output.

The promise of change may give Cubans hope, but it also may unnerve them. The reforms will include phasing out the ration books that most people have used for decades to buy groceries.

Mr Castro said the state had to learn to live within its means: "Two plus two is four. Never five, much less six or seven, as we have sometimes pretended."

He also struck other unexpected notes, chastising the regime built by his own brother for agreeing to reforms in the past and failing to enact them. He even looked to Cuba's journalists in the hall and said their coverage of Cuban politics had become superficial. They must do better and officials must be more open to them, Mr Castro said. That Mr Castro and the top ranks of the Communist Party are still struggling to see how far towards a mixed economy they can move without compromising the revolution remains clear. He spoke of giving Cubans the right to sell cars and homes but ruled out broader ownership of property. Capitalism will be rejected yet "the force of the market will not be ignored", he said.

Ending the distribution of rations may be the most difficult reform to enact. But Mr Castro highlighted that as vital if Cuba's economy is to survive. The ration tickets had become "an unsupportable burden for the economy and a disincentive to work", he said.

Mr Castro, who turns 80 this month, also said the state does not have "a reserve of well-trained replacements with sufficient experience and maturity" to replace the current leaders, nearly all of whom are now in their 70s and 80s. The time had come he said to instigate "systematic rejuvenation of the whole chain of party and administrative posts", he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea