Cuba: Castro Says Reforms Advancing

Self-employed. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 12 (DPA) — Cuban President Raul Castro said today that his government “will comply with the entire program” of reforms approved at the last Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), the “definitive” body for setting the course of the island.

The younger Castro also lowered expectations around the “First Party Conference,” to be held on January 28 and 29. Although it is an instrument provided by the constitution, this is the first time the regime has called a meeting of this type.

“The party congress was the definitive meeting, so there should be no illusions about the conference, which has raised many expectations,” said the president at the airport when seeing off Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after a brief state visit. The conference “is an internal party matter,” he said.

In recent years the Raul Castro government has driven an agenda of deep reforms for “updating” the Cuban economic model with market elements, but without renouncing socialism. In 2011, it authorized the unrestricted sale of homes and vehicles after decades of bans.

Castro assured that the government would move ahead with all of the changes promised. Among the most anticipated is that of immigration reform, which was first announced in August last year but was recently confined to “gradual” measures without fixed deadlines. Expectations of an imminent announcement about the relaxation of immigration regulations skyrocketed during the final days of 2011.

“Carrying out the full program will also depend on many factors, such as time. We will proceed at our own pace to avoid mistakes,” said Castro.

In recent years, Havana has been increasing de-regulating the economy and is now granting loans to self-employment workers, among other measures. In the coming years, the government expects the private sector to absorb many thousands of workers from the bloated state sector.

However, experts and observers on the island believe that the government could be making these changes in the face of some resistance to the reforms within the state apparatus itself. Raul Castro has only emphasized his government’s vigorous struggle against corruption as being one of its principal banners.

“Little by little the reform program is being fulfilled,” said Raul Castro at the airport after bidding farewell to Ahmadinejad, who toured several Latin American countries this week. There are “many difficulties, many changes,” said the Cuban leader.

“Every time we get a new law or resolution decree, or something that begins changing, these require hundreds of hours of study,” said the Cuban president.