HAVANA, Cuba. November 19, 2010 (AFP): Cuban leader Fidel Castro has suggested he may resign as Communist Party chief, his last leadership post, as he praised his brother Raul’s management of the country.
“I got sick and did what I had to do — delegate my powers. I cannot do something that I am not capable of dedicating full time to,” Castro told a group of students on Wednesday, state-run press said Thursday.
Castro said he was not speaking to them as first secretary of the ruling communist party but rather as a “soldier of ideas.”
“I did not hesitate even a second to put aside my responsibilities,” said the 84-year-old, who has kept busy writing and participating in academic meetings in recent years.
After ruling Cuba for nearly half a century, Castro provisionally ceded power to his younger brother, Raul Castro, in July 2006 following intestinal surgery, and officially resigned the presidency in February 2008.
For now, Castro officially remains head of Cuba’s only legal political party, which will meet in April to discuss future economic policies for the Caribbean nation. He has held the post since 1965 after seizing power during the 1959 communist revolution.
Castro also praised his 79-year-old brother and successor, saying he was “pleased, because the country is working, despite of all the challenges.” He also pointed to communist China, which has steadily grown in recent years, as a model for development.
His proposed raft of economic reforms is up for debate at the Cuban Communist Party Congress, the first since 1997.
The reforms, which including cutting more than a million government jobs, represent a major management shakeup for the communist island.
They provide for an influx of foreign capital, an opening for private enterprise and reduced government role in the market — all steps away from the Soviet-style communist system currently in force that gave an overarching role to the state.
The proposals make efficiency a vital part of economic management, aim to do away with state subsidies, including food rations, and foresee starting a tax system.
Following up on his pledge on subsidies, president Castro is eliminating subsidies on materials to build and repair homes, with all such products due to be sold at higher prices free of government intervention from January.
Since Februrary, a few materials have been sold free of subsidies in over 300 stores, but subsidized sale prices remained in effect for most building products, trade ministry official Pilar Fernandez told Juventud Rebelde newspaper.
Since taking over — first temporarily, then permanently — in 2006, Raul Castro has warned his countrymen that the state can no longer afford to pay idle workers and must cut many subsidies Cubans have come to expect.
In September, the government announced that it was laying off 500,000 workers — or one-tenth of its labor force — while allowing many to work for themselves in an expanded private sector.
Raul Castro called a Party Congress for April in which the government is expected to map out details of Cuba’s economic future.
A separate Communist Party gathering, called a Party Conference, is also to be held at some point in 2011, and there is speculation Fidel Castro might use one of the occasions to step down as head of the Communist Party.