Raul Castro announced yesterday that a communist party congress, the first since 1997, will be held in the second half of 2009. Also, from the Reuters story: “He said an executive body, made up of the same seven officials who hold the Council of State presidency and six vice presidencies, and with an average age of more than 70, would make day-to-day decisions for the Political Bureau until the Congress. This would imply that Fidel Castro is no longer active in party affairs, though the two brothers insist he is still consulted on all important matters of state.” In addition, he announced that some death sentences are to be commuted, although the death penalty remains on the books. See coverage from Reuters here and here, and from AP.
[Update: It’s hard to envision that the naming of the “executive body” mentioned above will have an impact on decisionmaking, considering that it’s the same seven individuals who are already at the top of the council of state. But this morning I left out something that is at least of symbolic importance: the creation of this group puts an end to Fidel Castro’s July 2006 ad hoc designation of specific officials to supervise specific policy areas during his illness. Raul Castro’s statement is here.]
Separately, modest increases were announced in pensions, social assistance payments, and salaries of court and justice ministry employees, and a five percent social security tax will “gradually be extended” to workers who do not now pay the tax. Granma (English) here.