Cuba's president Castro backs term limits

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Cuban President Raul Castro said on Saturday that he backs political term limits of 10 years at most for top leadership spots in a country he and his brother Fidel Castro have led for more than five decades.

"We have reached the conclusion that it is in our interest to limit to a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms service in top state and political roles," Castro, 79, told the 1,000 delegates as he opened the Communist Party Congress.

"This is possible and necessary in our current situation," added the 79-year-old, who took over from Fidel Castro during his brother's health crisis back in 2006.

It was not immediately clear if, or how, Raul Castro meant for the measure to apply to himself as president. He turns 80 in June.

And Raul Castro lamented that, in his view, there were no younger Cubans ready to take over the helm of the party and the nation immediately.

"Today, we face the consequences of not having a back bench of adequately prepared replacements, who have enough experience and maturity to take on the new and complex duties of managing the party, state and government," he told delegates.

The president said, without elaborating, that glory-seeking by unnamed parties could stand in the way of the Communist Party being "worthy of the unlimited support of the people and the revolution, for all time."

Delegates of the meeting will, over four days, vote on economic reforms proposed by Castro and officially relieve his ailing 84-year-old brother as party leader.

It was the sixth Communist Party Congress convened by the only one-party Communist regime in the Americas, and the nation's first in 14 years.

"The confidence and the united majority of Cubans have been tested, with regard to the party and the revolution," Castro acknowledged on opening the gathering. "It is a unity that is not without differences of opinion."

Fidel Castro, who has led the party since its founding in 1965, announced three weeks ago he had resigned the party leadership when he first took ill. He is widely expected to pass that mantle to Raul officially.

The congress will elect a new 100-member Central Committee, as well as the more elite 19-member Politburo and 10-member Secretariat.

The government has said the congress will formally enshrine many economic reforms the government has adopted over the past year. Reforms are desperately awaited in a country where the average salary is $17 a month and domestic food production is a problem.

Among the moves put on track in 2010: Havana is eliminating 20 percent of state employees.

To help pick up slack on the unemployment front, it is expanding the categories of legal self-employment to 178, decentralizing the food distribution system, expanding allowable areas of foreign investment, slashing subsidies and imposing a tax system.

"Let's see what comes out of all this. It is unbelievable that this country does not produce what it eats," said Ana Rosa Rodriguez, a 28-year-old worker in Havana.

"Raul is trying to improve the economy and he's started to approve some steps, but you don't see results yet."

Clad in his general's uniform and surrounded by senior officials, party congress delegates and war veterans, Raul Castro earlier saluted soldiers as they marched through the Plaza de la Revolucion under sunny skies.

Hundreds of thousands of other marching Cubans followed, including thousands of kid "pioneers" waving blue, white and red Cuban flags and chanting "Viva Fidel!" "Viva Raul!" "Long live the Revolution!"

Fidel did not attend the festivities marking exactly half a century after he proclaimed the socialist character of the regime on the eve of the April 17, 1961 landing by 1,400 Cuban exiles armed and trained by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

Within just 72 hours of bloody combat on Playa Larga and Playa Giron 200 kilometers (124 miles) southeast of Havana, Castro had routed out the invaders in what Cuba celebrates as "the first great defeat of imperialism (as Cuba calls the United States) in Latin America."

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