Cuba’s Raul Castro turns 80 but focus on economy instead of birthday

HAVANA, June 3 (Xinhua) — Cuba’s current leader Raul Castro on Friday turned 80 but kept the focus of the day on his reform plans to “upgrade” the Cuban economic model and held no official celebrations.

On the eve of his big birthday, Castro didn’t even mention the 80th anniversary but rather repeated the need for moving ahead with economic and social reforms and called on Cubans to work together to change what he described as “many absurd things” on the island.

File photo of Raul Castro

“We must change many things or we fall into the abyss and ruin the efforts achieved by many others before us,” he said, but stressed that the social system of the Cuban Revolution would stay.

Since taking office as Cuba’s supreme leader in 2006 after his elder brother Fidel withdrew from power because of serious illness, Raul Castro has made a gradual restructuring of the government, including changes to military appointments and promoting a more efficient and transparent supervisory structure in key areas.

His government has taken important steps in the last few months to re-integrate several aspects of a free market economy. These steps include opening up for the free sale of properties and cars, opened up to foreign investment, authorized more people to get access to private business permits and cutting subsidies and 1.5 million jobs from bloated state companies.

The reforms are aimed at dealing with the serious economic crisis that has affected Cuba during the last two decades since the collapse of the Soviet bloc in East Europe in 1989 and the continuing U.S economic and political embargo which has been imposed on Cuba since 1962.

To help drag the country out of the crisis and make a better use of the material and human resources available in Cuba, Castro has implemented over 300 reforms known as “Guidelines of the Economic and Social Policy of the Cuban Communist Party and the Revolution.”

Cubans should be encouraged to “openly discuss with no fear or concerns” their opinions about how best to comply with the reform agenda adopted to an “update of the national economy,” Castro said.

The over 300 reforms were approved at the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in April, which besides being attended by over 1,000 delegates from all across the Caribbean island nation was dominated by economic experts.

The reform agenda includes the opening to foreign investments in key sectors like tourism and nickel, the grant of permits to open small private cooperatives and enterprises, the encouragement of self-employment and the cut of million and half jobs from the bloated state companies.

According to official figures more than 314,000 people have already received permits to start private work activities, while as part of agricultural reforms Castro has decentralized decision-making and authorized farmers to sell part of their crops freely.

Raul Castro was born on June 3, 1931, in the town of Biran in the former Cuban province known as Oriente. He received his early education in the city of Santiago de Cuba and later moved to Havana where he completed high school and attended university before becoming an active part of the Cuban Revolution led by his brother Fidel against the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

During the party congress in April Raul Castro was officially elected first secretary of the party, the highest political position in Cuba. Enditem




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