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World

Cuba to mull term limits at landmark conference

InterAksyon.com
The online news portal of TV5

HAVANA - Cuba's Communist Party is expected to consider a strategic overhaul at its first National Conference in 50 years next month, including a radical presidential proposal to impose term limits on top leaders.

President Raul Castro has said the gathering, set for January 28, will tackle big social issues like discrimination and official corruption, and will look at how to handle Cubans' access to the Internet and social media.

It will also take on a proposal by Castro, 80, to impose a 10-year term limit on government officials, including the president and party leaders.

Such changes would amount to a mini-revolution in the country where his brother -- the revolutionary icon Fidel Castro -- ruled for almost five decades before handing over power to Raul in 2006.

"In January, the party's National Conference is to be held, so there is no time to rest," the president told the National Assembly on Friday.

He was more direct on August 1, saying: "If we do not change our mentality, we are not going to be able to ride out the changes that are necessary to guarantee" the current system remains in place.

As defense chief, Raul Castro turned Cuba's armed forces into major players in the country's tourism sector. Few expected he would open Cuba up politically, but many thought he would champion economic reforms.

He has implemented some reforms, such as allowing Cubans to have cell phones and stay in hotels once reserved for foreign tourists. He has also pared state payrolls while encouraging more Cuban workers to be self-employed.

But some analysts argue the president has dragged his feet on other reforms, even as Cuba's economy has sputtered. Others believe that his range of motion may be limited by the still-influential Fidel.

The Americas' only one-party Communist regime has been on the ropes economically and politically since the end of the Cold War. The nation of 11.2 million has been in economic crisis mode for over 20 years.

With the loss of vital Eastern Bloc partners in the early 1990s, Cuba's economy largely collapsed, sending thousands of Cubans fleeing on fragile rafts across the Florida Straits to the United States.

The two countries still do not have full diplomatic ties.

Havana later found a new ally in Hugo Chavez, the left-wing leader of oil-rich Venezuela.

Over the past decade Venezuelan aid has allowed Cuba's leaders to indefinitely postpone the kind of market reforms undertaken by formerly communist countries elsewhere in the world.

January's high-stakes party conference could well be the last one for the Castro brothers, given their age -- both are in their 80s -- and Cuba's dire economic straits. Most Cubans make the equivalent of under 20 dollars a month.

As long ago as December 2010, Raul Castro warned the National Assembly: "Either we put this right, or it is time to stop getting close to the edge ... We are sinking, and we will sink ... the efforts of whole generations."