|WORDS OF PRAISE
Fidel Castro, 84, turned the leadership of Cuba over to his younger brother Raul after falling gravely ill in 2006.
Castro lauds brother’s economic policy
Ailing icon also supports plan for term limits
HAVANA — Fidel Castro apologized yesterday for not making it to a military parade celebrating the 50th anniversary of his victory over CIA-backed exiles at the Bay of Pigs, then praised his brother Raul’s speech proposing major economic changes and term limits for Cuba’s leaders.
The 84-year-old revolutionary icon said in an opinion piece that the speech opening the Sixth Party Congress after Saturday’s parade made him proud, a key vote of confidence in the direction his brother, the president, is taking the country.
“It has been worth the trouble to have lived to see today’s events, and it is worth the trouble to always remember those who died to make them possible,’’ Fidel wrote, adding that he felt “the same feelings of pride’’ when he heard Raul’s address and saw the faces of the 1,000 Communist Party delegates who attended the speech.
Fidel said he did not feel physically up to attending the military parade at Revolution Plaza and begged forgiveness to those disappointed by his absence.
Fidel handed power over to his brother after falling gravely ill in 2006, and Raul took over formally two years later.
In the last year, Raul, 79, has pushed a limited but significant opening to private enterprise, and he said the government must slash the labor force and reduce generous subsidies that are an impediment to hard work. He also favors the eventual decentralization of the island nation’s economy and a new reliance on supply and demand in some sectors.
On Saturday, Raul Castro added a clarion call for political change to his agenda, saying politicians and other leading figures should be limited to two 5-year terms, a remarkable statement on an island run by him and his brother for more than a half century.
The president acknowledged that errors have left Cuba with no obvious successor and promised to rejuvenate the island’s political class in what time he has left.
The term-limit proposal would mean there could be no repeat of the Castros’ political dynasty, but it will have little practical impact on Raul Castro’s future. Having been sworn in in 2008, he would be at least 86 years old at the end of a second five-year term.
Raul’s government is still full of graying veterans of the revolution against Fulgencio Batista.
Among them are Jose Ramon Fernandez, 87, a vice president who commanded defenses during the 1961 Bay of Pigs attack, and Ramiro Valdes, 78, a vice president who was with the brothers when they and their rebel forces landed in Cuba on the yacht Granma in 1956.
Raul’s speech has raised speculation the position will go to a younger leader like Lazaro Exposito, the fast-charging Communist Party chief in Santiago de Cuba, or Marino Murillo, the former Economy Minister who has been promoted to a position that puts him in charge of implementing the economic reforms.