Posted on Sat, Dec. 23, 2006
Cuban parliament lauds island's economic growth
By Doreen Hemlock
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
HAVANA – Cuban officials unveiled stellar economic results to the
nation's legislature Friday, but hopes for a message from ailing Fidel
Castro never materialized.
Officials said Cuba posted its fastest economic growth in its socialist
history this year: 12.5 percent, the highest rate in the Latin America
and the Caribbean region.
The burst helps the island recover from its worst economic crisis ever,
prompted by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of its generous
subsidies to Cuba in the 1990s.
But serious problems remain. Cuba is still short on the foreign currency
needed to import basics such as oil, buses and food. And local output
and productivity remain low, so the island doesn't produce enough
supplies domestically either, officials said.
"Let's work to get the maximum results with the minimum spending
possible," Finance Minister Georgina Barreiro told the National
Assembly, urging islanders to toil harder and smarter in 2007.
On the streets of Havana's colonial section, many residents were little
impressed with announcements the economy sprinted past last year's 11.8
percent growth and 5.4 percent in 2004. Nor were they wowed by an
announcement to the Assembly that the government had pared the budget
deficit to 3 percent of economic output.
Instead, they wanted to see more tangible results in their daily lives:
salaries that could stretch to buy chicken and beef, plus the
mobilization of more buses, so that they needn't wait hours at bus
stops. Many recalled better times before the demise of the Soviet bloc
crippled Cuba's economy.
"I wish prices would come down for food and other basics," said Jose
Miguel Arias, 34, who sells T-shirts to tourists at an artisan's fair.
"And transportation in Cuba is the worst."
Independent economic sources such as the U.N. Economic Commission for
Latin America and the Caribbean have questioned Cuba's economic data.
The government recently revised its method for calculating growth to
place a value on the many free services it provides, including health
care and education. Some say the formula overstates growth by about 3
Even using calculations by others, Cuba's economy would have grown far
faster – 9.5 percent – than the 5.3 percent average in Latin America
this year, Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez said. Yet he defended
"Cuba doesn't falsify statistics nor manipulate them for electoral
purposes," Rodriguez told the one-party legislature, including 90
deputies who have been in the Assembly since its founding 30 years ago.
The economic news came a legislative session Friday in which 502
deputies approved economic and budget bills without objection or
discussion in public.
Before the meeting, speculation swirled about whether Fidel Castro
recovering from intestinal surgery late July and last seen in a video
late October might send a message to the Assembly. But there was no news
forthcoming from the 80-year-old.
Cuba's acting chief Raul Castro was present at the Assembly, but did not
speak during the roughly hour-long part of session open to the press at
Havana's main convention center.
At least one political dissident group, the Progressive Arch, has asked
for Raul Castro to be made the permanent leader, a move that likely
would require legislative approval. But the Assembly apparently did not
address the issue. Officials continue to insist Fidel Castro is recovering.