Posted on Sunday, 08.01.10
Raul Castro says state will reduce economic role
By WILL WEISSERT
Associated Press Writer
HAVANA — Raul Castro said Sunday that his government will scale back
controls on small businesses, lay off unnecessary workers and allow more
self-employment – significant steps in a country where the state
dominates nearly every facet of the economy.
Cuba's president, however, squashed notions of a sweeping overhaul to
the country's communist economic system in response to the financial
crisis it faces.
"With experience accumulated in more than 55 years of revolutionary
struggle, it doesn't seem like we're doing too badly, nor that
desperation or frustration have been our companions along the way," the
Castro spoke before parliament, which opened its biannual session
without Fidel Castro, who has made a slew of recent public appearances
of late but missed another chance to share a major public stage with his
Instead, lawmakers got Raul, who said authorities will "update the Cuban
economic model," suggesting reforms could be on the horizon. Cuban
officials plan to reduce state control of small businesses, authorize
more Cubans to become self-employed and build a new tax structure that
will compel state employees to contribute more.
About 95 percent of all Cubans currently work for the government and
Castro has suggested that as many as one in five state employees are
redundant. He promised job cuts, calling for "the reduction of work
forces that are considerably bloated in the state sector."
Castro said those left out of work would be retrained or reassigned so
as not to stay unemployed, but also said warned that few sectors would
be immune to job-cuts.
While he offered no specifics, his comments on economic and employment
reform could mean a lot in Cuba, where many had hoped the government of
Raul Castro could embrace small economic openings after he took power
from his brother, first temporarily, then permanently, in July 2006.
The president's announcements were similar to comments before the
session began by Economy Minister Marino Murillo, who spoke to reporters
about a pilot program that has turned some state barber shops over to
their employees and let them set their own prices while paying rent.
Murillo said such projects would be extended to other sectors of the
economy, adding that "we are of the belief that the state has to step
back on certain activities."
He also said that allowing outright private ownership was out of the
"We can't call them reforms. We are studying a modification of the Cuban
economic model," Murillo said. He added that officials will ensure that
"the values of socialism come first, not the market."
"We will continue following centralized planning," he said, "but we will
loosen up on a group of things."
Cuba has pledged to release 52 political prisoners as part of a deal
with the island's Roman Catholic Church, and 20 have been freed so far –
heading into exile in Spain with their relatives. But Castro said that
despite the deal, "there will not be impunity for the enemies of the
Raul Castro made only limited references to Fidel, who also missed the
recent celebration of Revolution Day. Raul attended that event but did
not speak – the first time since 1959 a Castro did not deliver a speech
on Cuba's top official holiday.
Fidel Castro remains a member of parliament, but his chair to the right
of Raul was empty Sunday. He has not appeared publicly alongside his
brother since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery and stepping down
four years ago.
On Friday, Fidel addressed a Communist youth meeting attended by former
castaway Elian Gonzalez, who is now 16. The ex-president has also turned
up everywhere from discussions with Cuba's diplomatic corps to the
dolphin show at Havana's aquarium.
On Sunday, he met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi instead of
attending the session of parliament with his brother.
Outside Cuba, debate has intensified over who is guiding major
government policy following the sudden media blitz by Fidel – who had
almost completely disappeared from public view until recently. Such
questions are far less common on the island, but it is not clear whether
Fidel and Raul are deliberately not appearing together in order to make
a statement about who is in control.
Raul, meanwhile, made a point of saying Sunday that his government is as
unified as ever.
He said it is not a false unanimity that excludes honest discrepancies,
"but one that promotes discussion of different ideas, and always with
the same goals of social justice and national sovereignty."