By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 21 – Fueled by the rumor mill, expectations abounded among Cubans concerning new measures being considered by the legislature to kick-start the downturned economy.
However, another parliamentary session ended on Sunday without any of the suspected changes occurring.
The Cuban parliament meets in full session twice a year. In recent years this has been accompanied by talk of changes in the nation’s economic and social policies.
Relaxing strict housing and vehicle laws that allow only quasi ownership; the near impossibility of legally starting a small business; and the perennially unpopular exit visa law were once again heard in people’s homes, jobs and on the streets prior to the meeting. Likewise, the possibility of a single Cuban currency.
In the end the Assembly met, but there was no reported movement on any of these issues. Instead, President Raul Castro set the tone for more hardship to come.
“I am aware of the expectations and honest preoccupations expressed by the representatives and the citizenry about the speed and extent of the changes we need to introduce in the functioning of the economy in the effort to strengthen our socialist system.
“For now, I will limit myself to saying that in the updating of the Cuban economic model, something that is taking place with a broad focus, there is no room for risky improvisation or hurriedness. It’s necessary to move towards the future with firm and safe steps, because we simply do not have the right to make mistakes.”
The president noted that “two consecutive adjustments” have been made to the country’s centralized economic planning, brought on by the negative effects of the world economic crisis affecting Cuba’s ability to obtain credit; this acted to decrease export revenues and the ability to import goods the country doesn’t produce.
This, Castro noted, came on the heels of the “battle to recover from the three devastating hurricanes that hit in the second semester of 2008.”
Castro added that the election Sunday of Planning and Economy Minister Marino Murillo Jorge to the 31-member Council of State was no coincidence, noting the importance his government is placing on resurrecting the economy.
Outstanding Debts to Foreign Partners
Having found itself in a cash flow crunch since last year’s hurricanes, Cuba is trying to make good on payments owed to foreign suppliers and partners. President Castro noted in his speech at the close of the parliament session, “Today I can announce that a third of the accumulated back payments have been reduced.”
He thanked the majority of his country’s creditors for their trust and understanding of the situation and reaffirmed “the will to continue honoring our commitments down to the last cent, in accordance with the possibilities of the economy.”
Regarding the government’s effort to increase worker productivity through greater discipline and incentives, Raul Castro added: “I must say that the results in the majority of cases is far from our expectations, primarily due to subjective factors, including poor organization and the passive resistance of intermediate management to changing their mentality…”
Addressing Racism and Sexism
President Castro also expressed his dissatisfaction with the “shameful” situation regarding the low number of women and blacks in top leadership positions that exists “after 50 years of Revolution, despite 65 percent of the technical work force being made up of women and our citizenry forming a beautiful rainbow without formal privileges of any type, these persist in practice.
“I will exercise all my influence to combat these damaging prejudices until they are finally ended, and women and blacks are promoted to leadership posts at all levels based on their merit and professional training.”
Reiterates Willingness to Talk with Obama
After noting that the US government continues to carry out a hostile policy towards Cuba in an attempt to undermine the island’s government, Raul Castro said: “I avail myself of this opportunity to reiterate the sincere desire of Cuba to, once and for all, resolve the differences with the United States through a respectful dialogue between equals on any topic without infringing on our independence, sovereignty and self-determination.
“If the US government really wants to advance in its relations with Cuba, I recommend that it leave behind the pre-conditions on internal matters they impose on us as these are issues that only Cubans should decide,” said Raul Castro.