In a speech late on Monday night to mark the 40th anniversary of his 1953 guerrilla attack on Cuba's Moncada barracks, the prelude to the 1959 revolution, Mr Castro, 67 next month, proposed scrapping a ban on Cubans holding hard currency in cash or bank accounts. He said restrictions would be eased on Cubans abroad, mostly in the United States, who want to visit their families back home and that the Cuban economy would be opened to more foreign investment.
Even the nature of his two-hour speech, to only 3,000 people in a theatre in the eastern city of Santiago instead of the traditional mass rally in Havana, reflected his proposed belt- tightening.
Mr Castro left Cubans in no doubt as to the gravity of the economic crisis and the need for hard currency to buy petrol, medicine and food. 'When will we be able to do away with rationing?' he asked rhetorically. 'Perhaps your grandchildren or great-grandchildren will see the day.'
He said a disastrous sugar harvest had added to the crisis caused by the collapse of Cuba's aid from Moscow and warned 'there are no magic solutions'. Mr Castro admitted he was being forced to make concessions, but concluded with his traditional battle- cry: 'Socialism or Death.'