HAVANA — 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, Fidel Castro 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 economy, 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, transport and housing 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 food 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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