9 Nov 2010

Cuban ruling party to meet - after 14 years

8:15 pm on 9 November 2010

Cuba's President Raul Castro has called the first congress of the ruling communist party in 14 years.

Mr Castro says the congress will be held in April next year to find a way to tackle Cuba's economic problems.

Since taking over from his brother Fidel in 2006, the BBC reports, Mr Castro has taken steps to reduce the state's almost total control of the economy and encourage small private enterprises.

In September, he announced plans to lay off around a million state employees - around a fifth of the workforce - and encourage them to find work in the private sector.

He also said restrictions on private enterprise would be eased, with small businesses allowed to employ staff, borrow money and sell services to government departments.

Economy gripped by crisis

The Cuban economy has been gripped by a severe crisis in the past two years that has forced the government to cut imports.

There has been a fall in the price of its main export, nickel, as well as a decline in tourism. Growth has also been hampered by the 48-year US trade embargo.

Mr Castro, who made the announcement during a meeting in Havana with his ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, urged all Cubans to help prepare for the meeting, saying that unity between "revolutionaries, the leadership and the majority of the people" was vital to the "future perfection of socialism".