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.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star