by Isabel Sanchez Isabel Sanchez – Tue Apr 19, 3:40 am ET
HAVANA (AFP) – Fidel Castro confirmed his exit from the Communist Party leadership on Tuesday, ceding power to his brother Raul as delegates prepare to vote on changes that could bring term limits to key posts.
The move came after the sixth Communist Party Congress approved a flurry of measures on Monday aimed at keeping Cuba's centrally planned economy from collapse but without any broad embrace of market-oriented change.
"Raul knew that I would not accept a formal role in the party today," Fidel wrote in an article on the Cubadebate.cu portal, referring to his absence from the party's new Central Committee, elected on Monday.
Castro, 84, had served as first secretary in the Central Committee of the party -- which underpins the country's Communist government -- since the party's creation in 1965.
Fidel said he had handed over the functions of the party head to Raul when he ceded power to his brother because of his own declining health in 2006, though he retained the first secretary title.
"(Raul) has always been who I described as First Secretary and Commander in Chief," Fidel wrote in the article.
"He never failed to convey to me the ideas that were planned," he added.
Castro said he supported the stepping aside of some of the older luminaries in the party, adding that "the most important thing was that I did not appear on that list.
"I have received too many honors. I never thought I would live so long."
The 1,000 delegates gathered in Havana for the four-day party congress have meanwhile approved some 300 economic proposals.
The reforms promise to inject a modicum of the free market into the island's economy ahead of a vote Tuesday expected to officially relieve Castro of his position as party head.
Reforms include the eventual trimming of a million state jobs and the decentralization of the agricultural sector.
Many of the measures have already been adopted over the past year, with the Congress now formally approving them.
Results of the voting on leadership term limits will be presented Tuesday, when Fidel would be finally officially replaced as party chief.
Raul, who turns 80 on June 3, was expected to take over as the party's new first secretary.
Raul said on Saturday that he backed term limits of 10 years for the top leadership spots, in a country he and his brother have led for more than five decades.
Fidel said he "liked the idea. I thought long and hard about the subject."
Cuba watchers were meanwhile focused on who would ascend to the party's number two position, which could signal the direction of an eventual transfer of power in the coming years.
Raul has rejected broader market-minded reforms like those adopted by China, saying they would be "in open contradiction to the essence of socialism... because they were calling for allowing the concentration of property."
Cubans have reacted to the reforms with cautious optimism, hoping that the government follows through with its pledges without harming those who depend on the public sector for employment and other basic needs.
Mikaela, the 28-year-old owner of a small beauty salon in the old city of Havana, hoped they would "give us the means to work and earn a living.
"That is all we need," she told AFP.
Herminia Diaz, 40, who left a career as an engineer and now rents out her house to earn a living, was skeptical that change would actually come.
"I like Raul's frankness in dealing with our problems, but when you think that they have been going on for 30 years, and that we've done nothing to resolve them, you just lose hope," she said.
"It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, that we've wasted all these years."
[Image via UN Photo/ Evan Schneider]