Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cuba draws on the past as it struggles with economic reform

Cuba draws on the past as it struggles with economic reform

Officials defend the painful march toward limited capitalism at a rally
marking the 58th anniversary of the Moncada barracks assault that
launched the communist revolution in Cuba. President Raul Castro attends
but leaves the speechmaking to others.
By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times

July 27, 2011

Reporting from Ciego de Avila, Cuba—
Cuban authorities Tuesday used one of the most important dates in Cuba's
revolutionary calendar to rally their nation to its newest battle:
painful but essential economic reform.

President Raul Castro appeared at an early morning ceremony here in lush
central Cuba but did not speak. Dressed in a white guayabera shirt and
straw hat, he enjoyed chants to his name and greeted guests but
otherwise left the speechmaking to others.

The holiday marks the 58th anniversary of the unsuccessful military
assault on the Moncada army barracks that launched the revolution that
ultimately brought his older brother, Fidel Castro, to power on Jan. 1,

This year's celebration comes as Cuba marches along a steady but
uncertain path of economic reform. Under Raul Castro's direction, the
communist government is experimenting with a limited form of capitalism
that has seen more than 300,000 Cubans acquire licenses to open or work
in new businesses, from the selling of trinkets on a corner to running
restaurants and hair salons.

Soon, they will also be allowed, for the first time under the regime, to
legally sell and buy property.

But change comes in fits and starts. Thousands of Cubans have lost their
jobs as the state attempts to cut deadwood, become more efficient and
push workers into a fledgling private sector. And many budding
businessmen and women complain of high taxes and shortages of the
supplies they need to work.

"The battle we wage today is a daily struggle without quarter against
our errors and deficiencies," Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura
said in the keynote address. "We must definitively break the mentality
of inertia."

Machado delivered a vigorous defense of the reforms as "permanent
solutions to old problems" and said they must proceed and deepen to
rescue Cuba's struggling economy and promote agricultural production.
However, he offered few specifics or new insights into the government

A crowd of Cubans and a smattering of foreign guests filed into a
rain-soaked field just after dawn to attend the ceremony, which was also
broadcast live on television and radio. Ciego de Avila, a region of
sugar cane and pineapple, is about 250 miles east of Havana. Sitting in
the first row, Castro, 80, was flanked by survivors of the 1953 battle
or their relatives and also the families of five Cuban men imprisoned in
the U.S. on terrorism-related charges, the fight for whose liberation is
a cause celebre in Cuba.

The rally took place under a huge billboard repeating Castro's motto in
promoting the reforms: Order, discipline and demands.

Ailyn Rodriguez, 19, was in the crowd with her "revolutionary youth"
group. She acknowledged that economic change was a challenge but
expressed confidence that she will be able to work in her chosen field
of child psychology when she finishes her studies.

"We want the world to know that we, the youth, will take the steps
necessary to confront the economy," said Rodriguez, dressed in a red Che
Guevara T-shirt and huge red hoop earrings.

Some in attendance were disappointed that Castro did not speak, having
hoped he might better outline government plans. He is likely to deliver
important remarks at next week's opening of the National Assembly.

In another sign of changing times, Fidel Castro was barely mentioned and
did not even appear on billboards. The ailing former president, who
turns 85 next month, ceded power to his younger brother in 2006 and has
gradually taken a back seat in most affairs of state. This anniversary
five years ago marked his last public political speech.

Organizers of the event also read out a message from Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez, who has come to Cuba twice in the last two months
for cancer treatment. Chavez expressed his "gratitude and admiration"
for Cuba.

The Venezuelan socialist said this week that he intends to run for
reelection next year, but questions swirl about the true state of his
health. A malignant tumor was removed last month, and last week Chavez
underwent a first round of chemotherapy. He has not revealed exactly
what kind of cancer he has, although speculation focuses on colon cancer.

Chavez gives Cuba thousands of barrels of heavily subsidized oil as well
as other benefits. Many see that continued backing as key to sustaining
economic reform, measures of which were approved by the ruling Communist
Party in an extraordinary congress in April, during which the steps were
pronounced as necessary to "salvage socialism.",0,7656307.story?track=rss

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