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Cuban Communist Party congress opens with calls for reforms

04-17-2011 13:22 BJT

HAVANA, April 16 (Xinhua) -- A landmark congress of Cuba's Communist Party opened here Saturday with its leader Raul Castro beating drums for bold reforms to revive the country's struggling economy.

Inaugurating the four-day caucus, Cuban President and second secretary of the party Raul Castro announced a series of reform proposals, including abolishing the decades-old food rationing system and allowing residents to buy and sell cars and real estate.

Castro told nearly 1,000 delegates that Cuba will gradually cease the distribution of subsidized food through ration cards as part of his ambitious five-year economic adjustment plan.

Eliminating the ration cards is a necessity for the country because the economy "cannot stand that charge," he said, adding that before a complete exit of the rationing system it is necessary to increase the national food production.

Abolishing the rationing system was one of the most debated issues among Cubans prior to Saturday's gathering, said Castro, who replaced his ailing elder brother Fidel as the island state's top leader in 2006.

Other issues worrying the population include the deficiency of public transport, education, the quality of the health services, low wages and the unification of the country's dual currencies, according to the reform-minded president.

The ration system was established in the 1960s to protect the people from speculation, but it has now become an obstacle to incenting the individual effort, Castro said.

The Cuban government said Friday the planned expenditure for food imports this year will hike 25 percent due to the rising prices on the international markets. The figure represents an extra payment of 308 million U.S. dollars.

Cuba spends about 1.5 billion dollars per year importing food, especially grains like rice and beans, chicken and oil, some of which are sold at highly subsidized prices.

Another measure to "modernize" the country's economic model is individuals will be permitted to buy and sell automobiles and real property, Castro said, adding that related new regulations are in the making.

He revealed that regulations are also being drafted for the private sector and individuals to apply for bank loans.

The planned reforms call for changes in some of the country's current regulations and laws, including the Constitution, which will be made "at an appropriate time," he said.

Castro warned against improvisations in economic management, saying it is necessary for state-run companies to make rational decisions in order to obtain better results with lower costs.

Castro criticized the attitude of those "who are accommodated while awaiting decisions from higher levels and avoiding the risks of taking own decisions."

"This mentality of inertia must be banished," he said.

Castro also proposed to limit the terms for officials of the government and the Cuban Communist Party to a maximum of 10 consecutive years.

"We have come to the conclusion that it is advisable to limit to a maximum of two consecutive terms of five years, depending on the performance of the key state and political positions. This is possible and necessary under the current circumstances," he said.

He stressed the need to rejuvenate the government and party leadership "from the base to the comrades who hold the primary responsibilities, without excluding the current president of the Councils of State and Ministers and the first secretary of the Communist central committee to be elected at this congress."

"Today we face the consequences of not having a reserve of substitutes properly prepared with sufficient experience and maturity to take on the new and complex tasks of leadership in the party, state and government," Castro said.

"However this is a matter to be solved gradually over five years,without rush or improvisation, but to start as soon as possible after the congress," he said.

The congress is expected to ratify Castro's reform proposals, which will be carried out in five years to "decentralize" Cuba's economic system. Some of them have been debated among Cubans for months.

The meeting, the first since 1997, should have been convened in 2002, but was delayed due to the economic emergency then and later by the health problems of Fidel Castro, then president of Cuba's Council of State, in 2006.

During the gathering, the delegates will vote in a new party leadership as Fidel Castro announced last month his resignation as first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party.

Raul Castro has taken a string of measures to reform Cuba's economy since taking over the power in 2006. The government announced in September 2010 a plan to lay off more than half of a million state workers and issue 250,000 new licenses for family businesses. Among others, it also loosened rules for self-employment and promulgated new rules allowing farmers to sell produce directly to consumers.



Editor:Zhang Pengfei |Source: Xinhua

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