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Raul Castro calls on Cubans to "openly discuss" economic reforms
Date: 2010/12/9 Click: 1728
Cuban leader Raul Castro has encouraged Cubans to "openly discuss without worry or concern" their opinions on the "upgrade of the national economy."

Castro referred to the national debates on economic adjustment measures while visiting Cuba's Jewish Community House to attend the Hanukkah, or "Festival of Lights" celebrations, broadcast on official television Monday.

The Cuban leader said he defended the "permanent debate of ideas, because that's where the best solutions come from." He asked the Cuban people "not to worry about expressing their differences that they deem appropriate" in his brief speech at the Beth Shalom synagogue.

During the meeting with the Jewish community in Cuba, Castro was invited to light the first Hanukkah candle, and recalled former Cuban leader Fidel Castro's participation in the feast of Hanukkah on Dec. 20, 1998.

Wearing a traditional Jewish head covering called "kippah," the current Cuban leader said he is satisfied because "the train is starting to move," referring to the debates on the economic reform plan.

The large-scale discussions on economic reforms began on Dec. 1 and will run for three months until the Sixth Congress of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) in April 2011, which is held every five years and has been postponed since 1997 without any public explanations.

At the congress, the guidelines of the economic and social policy for the next five years will be discussed. These guidelines are expected to help Cuba overcome the serious crisis affecting the island for years. Fidel Castro is also expected to participate.

The government is taking measures to make the economy more efficient by ending state paternalism, opening space for private enterprises and foreign investment, and by promoting urban production and service cooperatives.

Since taking office in 2007, Raul Castro has repeatedly advocated a restructuring of the Cuban economic model to make better use of human and material resources and strengthen the national economy, which has been weakened by the global financial crisis and the U.S. embargo.

"Upgrading the Cuban economic model is a local act, which is adjusted to the national features, and without giving up socialist construction," the Cuban leader said about the new economic model. "We are not copying the model of any other country."

ĦĦĦĦThe main issue will be the economic changes needed to "upgrade" the Cuban economic model, Rauo Castro said. Social affairs will be debated in another conference before the end of the year.
The PCC congress seeks to strengthen the economic changes initiated by the current Cuban leader, proclaiming that socialism will continue to be the social and economic model in the country.

The economic policy in the new stage will correspond to the principle that only socialism can overcome difficulties and preserve the conquests of the revolution, and "updating the economic model will be based on planning and not on the market," the PCC said.

The island is suffering from a severe financial crisis, an imbalance between salaries and production efficiency, and a deficit of staff in some sectors and an excess in others, according to official figures.

According to the guidelines, the "socialist state enterprise" continues to be the main model, but joint ventures with foreign investment, cooperatives, productive land, the lease of premises by employees and "self-employed" work will also be encouraged.

The congress will take place at the same time as the government is implementing a plan to eliminate more than 500,000 jobs in state sectors and encourage self-employment by allowing Cubans to start small businesses in 178 different professions.

According to Castro's policy of cutting subsidies, the state will not subsidize the losses of state enterprises, and those with sustained losses will be liquidated.

Also for the first time since the triumph of the Cuban revolution, the income of workers in state enterprises will depend on results instead of steady salaries.

"The policy we are proposing is that socialism means equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens, but not egalitarianism," Castro said. "Work is both a right and a duty, and a source of personal fulfillment for every citizen, and shall be compensated according to its quantity and quality."

The new changes also encourage the unification of the two currencies used in the country, the Cuban national peso (CUP) and the Convertible peso (CUC). The CUC is worth 24 times more than the CUP, and has a value of about 1.08 U.S. dollars. Cuban workers earn their salaries in CUP, while most domestic goods are sold in CUC.
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