Cuba shuffle, geriatrics shuttle

Raul Castro has proposed term limits for Cuba’s rulers, including himself, in an unprecedented effort to rejuvenate the island’s political leadership.

The 79-year-old Cuban president told the Communist Party congress that senior positions should be rotated at least every 10 years to shake off the inertia and “self delusion” that has crippled the economy.

“We have reached the conclusion that it is advisable to recommend limiting the time of service in high political and state positions to a maximum of two five-year terms,” he said.

The four-day congress, which ended on Tuesday, endorsed proposals to liberalise Cuba’s stagnant, centrally planned economy with cuts and privatisation. Castro sprung the surprise in a speech last Saturday by denouncing a tendency towards geriatric leadership. Veterans of the 1959 revolution dominate senior posts. The first vice-president, Juan Machado Ventura, is 80 and the second vice-president, Ramiro Valdes, is 77. Raul’s brother and predecessor, Fidel (84), still retains influence.

The congress, the first in 14 years, was likely to be the last for the Castros and their generation, said the president, adding that efforts to promote young people to top jobs had failed.

His call for systematic rejuvenation will be debated at a party conference in January. Raul succeeded Fidel in 2008, suggesting he could remain until he was 86. The congress is expected to confirm the president as the party’s first secretary, but it remains unclear whether the second secretary – and possible successor – will be from a younger generation.

The congress, which gathered 1000 delegates, coincided with a parade of military hardware and hundreds of thousands of marchers to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs, when the revolution defeated a CIA-backed invasion of exiles. The stirring speeches about the continued fight against imperialism reinforced official rhetoric that liberalising the economy was about saving socialism, not abolishing it.

Cutting Rights and Welfare
However, some Western diplomats in Havana say there is a Thatcherite agenda of cutting rights and welfare, and of emphasising personal responsibility and hard work. The state, which dominates the economy, accounts for about 80% of jobs, which pay on average about $20 a month. Agriculture and industry are anaemic.

Recently, about 171000 licences were acquired for small businesses. The government hopes a partially unshackled private sector will soak up about a million state-sector workers, soon to be jobless.

Many formerly black-market hustlers have become legitimate traders. “Before, I used to have a zipped bag under my shoulder and say, ‘pssst, want some flowers?’,” said Rodolfo Mera, with a cartload of blooms. “Now the cops don’t bother me.”

Castro said the universal monthly food ration, already whittled down, would be restricted to the neediest. It had become “an unsupportable burden for the economy and a de-stimulus of work”, he said. — Guardian News & Media 2011

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