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Cuba's new leader determined to move country forward
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15:04, February 26, 2008

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Raul Castro, who has been chosen as Cuba's new leader, is now preparing new plans to move the island country forward.

Raul won the post at a Sunday gathering of the National Assembly of People's Power to succeed his elder brother Fidel Castro, a veteran revolutionary and leader of Cuba since 1959.

During his acceptance speech, Raul said the country needs "a smaller number of central administration bodies and a better distribution of their functions". "We have to make our government more efficient," he added.

One of Raul's first moves was to begin a national debate on changes that are necessary on this island, launched with a call for "bravery and sincerity within socialist principles."

During the debate, some criticized Cuba's dual-currency system, low salaries for workers, and shortages in housing, food and transport.

Raul has publicly acknowledged the difficulties in Cubans' daily life, but ruled out what he called short-term solutions, saying salary increase or price cuts should be based on increased productivity and an improved economy.

He also said his government would scrap some administrative bans and regulations, which are hindering economic development.

However, Raul made it clear that Cuba generally would continue in the mold set by Fidel. "Fidel is irreplaceable and the Cuban people will continue his work even when he is no longer physically here, because his ideas will always be present," he said.

Raul began ruling Cuba, on what was then described as an interim basis, on July 31, 2006, as his brother recovered from an intestinal operation.

Since that day, Fidel has only been seen on pre-recorded videos.

Many Cubans expressed their admiration and respect toward retiring Fidel and his legacy.

Quoted by Cuba's Prensa Latina news agency, Cuban poet and essayist Roberto Fernandez Retamar said Fidel was the conductor of Cuba's revolution. "Fidel's role as a spiritual conductor cannot be replaced," Fernandez said.

French journalist Salim Lamrani told the news agency that "Fidel is a figure of unique importance in Cuba's history. No one will have the same importance as Fidel."

Meanwhile, Raul's new administration was publicly welcomed by citizens quoted in Cuba's state-run media.

"We have shown that we have a revolutionary people and a stable and mature process which knows how to choose those who will guide the nation in new circumstances," retired brigadier Demetrio Montseny Villa told the Cuban news agency AIN.

Reserve Colonel Jorge Vilardel Gonzalez, who also spoke to AIN, said Raul was the "just and wise choice" as he had participated in Cuba's 1959 revolution and long been Cuba's second-in-command.

"Our main goal is to ready ourselves to fulfill our mission," said the nation's youngest legislator, 18-year-old Liaena Hernandez Martinez, who is a student leader in Cuba's eastern province of Guantanamo.

Source: Xinhua

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