Human Rights in Cuba

Time To Change

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Posted on Monday, 04.18.11

votes for new party leader
The Associated Press

HAVANA — Cuba's Communist Party has begun the process of electing new
leaders in a vote that is likely to formally name Raul Castro first
secretary in place of his brother. All eyes are on the selection of the
No. 2 position, which could go to a younger leader.

An official photograph taken by state media from inside the spacious
convention hall where the party confab is taking place shows Raul
placing his vote inside a ballot box. The ballot reads "Candidacy for
Members of the Central Committee." On the ballot, Castro has checked off
a box reading, "Vote for All," an indication he has chosen to approve
the entire slate of candidates.

The candidates themselves are not visible in the picture, and it was not
clear when the new leadership will be announced.

HAVANA (AP) – A new generation of leaders must act decisively and
without hesitation to correct the errors of the past and lead the island
once those who fought in the 1959 revolution are gone, said
in a column published Monday.

Nearing the close of a critical Communist Party summit called to chart
the course of the island's socialist system and right its flagging
, the aging revolutionary leader praised delegates to the
gathering. He wrote that he was impressed by their intellectual
preparation and he believes they are up to the task.

"The new generation is being called upon to rectify and change without
hesitation all that should be rectified and changed," Castro wrote.

"There is no margin for error," he added.

Divided into five committees and meeting behind closed doors, party
delegates are considering more than 300 proposals for economic changes,
many of which were first announced last year. They affect sectors from
agriculture, energy, and to new rules letting Cubans
go into business for themselves.

State-run Cuban news media have reported intense debate over several
points, such as the need for formal contracts to improve control and
payment of taxes in the agricultural sector; providing credit to
independent workers who need capital to launch their businesses; and
eliminating the island's unique dual-currency system, under which
workers are paid in Cuban pesos, while many imported goods are available
only in a dollar-linked currency that is beyond most people's reach.

One committee gave initial approval to a measure legalizing the buying
and selling of private real estate by Cuban nationals, state television
reported in the afternoon. Islanders have been clamoring for years to
end restrictions which have been in place since the revolution.

Also on the table is a proposal to eventually eliminate the monthly
ration book, which provides Cubans with a basic basket of heavily
subsidized and other goods.

The ration book is one of the most cherished of subsidies on the island,
but President Raul Castro has repeatedly said it is unsustainable, and a
disincentive to work.

Delegates are scheduled to vote in a full session later Monday on the
whole package of economic proposals, which have undergone extensive
revisions since they were first announced last year. The changes have
not been made public, meaning Cubans won't know precisely what has been
voted on until the measures are approved.

The Party Congress does not have the power to enact the changes into
law, but the suggestions are expected to be acted upon quickly by Cuba's
National Assembly over the coming days and weeks.

The party will also be naming its top leadership before the gathering
wraps up Tuesday following a speech by Raul Castro. At every Congress in
the past, it has ratified Fidel as first secretary and younger brother
Raul as No. 2.

But Fidel recently announced that he was no longer heading the party,
and had effectively been out since falling gravely ill five years ago.
Raul is expected to take his place, leaving all eyes focused on the
selection of a new second secretary.

During his opening speech, Raul proposed that Cuba implement term limits
for politicians at all levels, a stunning proposal in a country that has
been ruled by one Castro or another for the past five decades.

With change in the air, officials have repeatedly emphasized a message
of continuity amid transition to a new generation.

Even a massive civilian and military parade Saturday marking the 50th
anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion was dedicated to Cuba's youth.

Fidel Castro sounded the same theme in his column Monday as he advised
the party to stay faithful to his ideals.

"Their task is even more difficult than the one assumed by our
generation when socialism was proclaimed in Cuba, 90 miles (145
kilometers) from the United States," Castro wrote. "That's why
persisting in revolutionary principles is, in my judgment, the principal
legacy we can leave them."

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