Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cuba VP: Gov't pushing ahead with economic reforms but not enough headway

Posted on Wednesday, 07.27.11

Cuba VP: Gov't pushing ahead with economic reforms but not enough headway
By Juan O. Tamayo

Cuba's struggle toward a more efficient economy continues "without a
truce" but its advances remain meager, Vice President José Ramón Machado
Ventura said Tuesday on the anniversary of the birth of the Castro

Proposed economic reforms still face "labor indiscipline" and a
bureaucracy that generates "indolence" and "absurd procedures that have
nothing to do with socialism," Machado Ventura declared at the July 26
celebrations in Ciego de Avila.

Cuban ruler Raúl Castro attended the ceremony but for the second time in
two years did not address the crowd of several thousand. He has recently
made key speeches only to government institutions such as the
legislature, rather than to street crowds.

Instead, Machado Ventura's 2,300-word speech essentially repeated
Castro's calls for ambitious reforms to rescue an economy stuck in the
doldrums since 2008, when three hurricanes devastated Cuba and the world
plunged into a financial crisis.

Cuba is fighting "daily and without a truce against our own errors and
deficiencies," he declared. "The government is "moving like we've said,
without hurry but without pause … to preserve socialism. We are not
using patches or improvising. We are looking for definitive solutions to
old problems."

But what has been achieved so far "is far from the potential," added the
80-year-old vice president, urging Cubans to work harder and with more
discipline to ensure the reforms succeed.

"To ask more of the Cuban people without first meeting their basic needs
will be a tremendous challenge for Raúl's government," said Andy Gomez,
senior fellow at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban
American Studies.

Former Cuban ruler Fidel Castro often used the July 26 celebrations to
make important announcements until he surrendered power to brother Raúl
after a health emergency in 2006. The younger Castro made his first call
for significant reforms when he addressed the event in 2007.

Raúl Castro's proposed reforms — slashing state subsidies and payrolls
and allowing more small-scale private enterprise, autonomy for state
enterprises and foreign investments — were endorsed in broad form by the
full Communist Party in April.

More than 300,000 Cubans already have taken out new licenses for
mini-businesses, like restaurants and barber shops, and Castro has
proposed vastly expanding the legal ability of Cubans to buy and sell
homes and cars.

But some of the reforms have hit significant snags.

A campaign to link state salaries to productivity, announced more than
two years ago, appears to have been put on ice. A plan to fire 500,000
state workers in the first three months of this year has a new timetable
that is clearly lower but not yet public.

Machado Ventura himself acknowledged that the "strategic" campaign to
increase domestic food production by leasing fallow state lands to
private farmers, launched more than two years ago, remains hampered by
"deficiencies" and "weaknesses."

Raúl Castro is expected to review the status of the reforms campaign,
and perhaps announce new proposals, when he presides over the next
meeting of the legislative National Assembly of People's Power, set for
early next month.

Machado Ventura also noted that the Central Committee of the Communist
Party — its most powerful body after the Political Bureau – would be
meeting "in coming days" to discuss the reform process.

Endorsements of the reforms by the National Assembly and the Central
Committee would give Castro — regarded as far more respectful of Cuban
government institutions than brother Fidel – yet another powerful green
light to push ahead with the changes.

Tuesday's ceremony marked the 58th anniversary of the 1953 attack by the
Castro brothers and their followers on an army base in the eastern city
of Santiago. The attack failed but is marked in Cuba as the birth of the
revolution that toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Fidel Castro, who will turn 85 on Aug. 13, has not attended any of the
July 26 ceremonies since 2006.

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