Cuba Labor Leader Calls For More Efficiency, Harder Work
Cuba's Labor Leader Calls For More Efficiency, Harder Work, At May Day March
HAVANA, May. 1, 2008
(AP) The head of communist Cuba's powerful labor union called for more
efficiency and harder work in the face of rising world fuel and food
prices as hundreds of thousands of workers joined the traditional May
Day march on Thursday.
The secretary-general of the Cuban Workers Confederation, Salvador
Valdes Mesa, also exhorted workers massed in Havana's broad Revolution
Plaza to adhere to the principles of ailing ex-president Fidel Castro,
the founder of the island's 50-year-old revolution.
"We Cubans have great challenges before us," Valdes told the crowd,
saying workers needed to rout out "inefficiencies and weaknesses" in the
Many wearing red or white T-shirts, the marchers flowed down a major
boulevard and past a parade stand, waving Cuban flags and hoisting
banners exalting the Castro brothers. While Fidel's image was more
common, for the first time there were some posters with photographs of
Raul Castro, who was named president on Feb. 24.
Wearing an olive green uniform, Raul Castro smiled and waved from the
stand but did not speak as he oversaw the first major event on the
communist-run island since he permanently assumed the presidency. Some
Cubans had hoped the government would use May Day to announce more reforms.
Since succeeding his brother Fidel, the 76-year-old Raul has lifted
restrictions for ordinary Cubans on cell phones, computers and DVD
players. They can now also rent cars and stay in luxury hotels on the
island _ if they can afford it.
The new administration recently began letting small farmers find better
uses for fallow government land, and is making it easier for state
workers to own homes they previously rented through their jobs.
Increases in small government pensions and court employee salaries were
also announced earlier this week.
Many hope the government will soon ease foreign travel restrictions and
authorize salary increases for more state employees _ or even strengthen
the national currency, now worth 24-to-1 against the U.S. dollar.
The average state salary is just US$19.50 (euro12.50) per month, though
health care and education are free, basic food is subsidized and most
people do not have to pay for housing.
May Day is celebrated worldwide, but few gatherings rival the event in
communist Cuba, where hundreds of thousands march every year.
It was the second consecutive year and only the fourth time in nearly
five decades that Fidel Castro has missed May Day festivities since the
The 81-year-old, who has not been seen in public since undergoing
emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006, published an essay several
hours before the celebration denouncing a movement by several states in
Bolivia that seek autonomy from President Evo Morales' leftist government.
Castro suggested that Washington plans to use the movement to oust his
ally Morales with "some anti-patriotic military sectors."
"Tthe sister Republic of Bolivia … is days, or even hours, from
suffering dramatic events," Castro wrote in the essay published on
government Web sites.