Cuba Renews Appliance Sales Amid Economic Changes


AP:

Cuba is renewing sales of energy-sucking appliances, reversing a pillar of Fidel Castro’s “energy revolution” in response to popular demand and to support the growing ranks of independent workers under an economic overhaul launched by President Raul Castro.

The measure covers appliances such as air conditioners, electric stoves, coffee makers, grills and sandwich makers. The appliances will begin going on sale gradually as they become available, according to a notice published in the Official Gazette and dated Friday.

It said the action was aimed at “supplying products to the population and independent workers.”

Appliance sales have been largely restricted since 2003, and they were key targets of former President Fidel Castro’s “energy revolution.”

That initiative sought to replace aging, inefficient kitchen appliances that taxed Cuba’s shaky electrical grid and contributed to frequent summer blackouts that lasted for hours.

The former leader regularly appeared on television to push conservation measures and flog less-power-hungry rice steamers and pressure cookers. Government workers went door to door in many neighborhoods to replace incandescent light bulbs with more-efficient alternatives. Officials also overhauled the antiquated electrical grid.

Blackouts are not as frequent or severe today, though officials still urge conservation. While most of Cuba’s electricity is generated by crude oil, there have been efforts to increase renewable sources like solar.

Raul Castro launched an economic overhaul last year that aims to rescue Cuba’s perennially weak economy by including a taste of the private sector, though Castro stresses that the government is “updating” its socialist model, not embracing capitalism.

The state is planning to slash expenses, subsidies and payroll, while allowing more islanders to open their own businesses and hire employees. Many of the independent business licenses are for restaurants, cafeterias and home-based snack bars, where something like a sandwich maker or an electric coffee pot could come in handy.

Friday’s note in the Gazette specifically mentions the needs of the small business owners, and says the appliances will be available on the domestic retail market.

www.particularcuba.com

Home sales would be a sea change for Cuba


Miami Herald: Selling an apartment in front of the Habana Libre, excellent conditionThe seller, Marita, is advertising this Havana apartment on revolico.com, an online marketplace that’s kind of like a Cuban Craigslist. She’s asking the equivalent of around $57,600 in convertible Cuban pesos.

Of course, at the moment real estate sales in Cuba are strictly illegal and have been for the past five decades. But that may change soon. As part of sweeping economic reforms unveiled at the Communist Party Congress in April, Cuba plans to allow the buying and selling of homes and cars.

A July 1 article in Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, painted the broad brush strokes of the real estate reform: such transactions would be permitted with little government interference beyond getting notary approval, making payment through a state bank and paying an as yet unspecified tax.

The real estate reform has yet to become law, but it’s possible it could when the National Assembly, Cuba’s parliament, convenes Monday for a three-day meeting at Havana’s Convention Palace. In any case, the government has said a new law will take effect by the end of the year.

This potential sea change has set off a flurry of activity on both sides of the Florida Straits. For years, Cuban-Americans have been funneling money to relatives to fix up tired properties or for under-the-table payments to “buy’’ a home or sweeten a permuta, or swap, the accepted form of acquiring Cuban real estate.

Now with the possibility of a true real estate market developing, people have been dusting off property titles or trying to find them and have been busy fixing up properties they anticipate putting on the market, said Antonio R. Zamora, a Miami lawyer who specializes in foreign investment.

“A lot of money is coming from Miami — some of it’s speculative,’’ said Zamora, who visited Cuba recently.

Some exiles say they have made under-the-table payments to purchase beach homes or other properties from family or friends with the understanding that some day they will own the homes outright. But they have no official paperwork to acknowledge such transactions.

In these cases, it should be buyer beware, said George Harper, a Miami attorney who left Cuba when he was 17. “That’s all well and good but any deal is subject to what the local laws are.’’

The expected law does not allow foreign ownership. The guidelines announced in Granma said that foreigners and Cubans living abroad can’t own property unless they are permanent residents of Cuba. Cubans will be allowed to own only one home and they can inherit a dwelling, even if the relatives of the deceased don’t live in the home, according to Granma.

Because of the influx of exile money, Zamora said it would be more realistic to “get the name of the foreign relative into the title.”

Phil Peters, a vice president at the Lexington Institute and a veteran Cuba watcher, said that the exile money flowing into Cuba may have an impact beyond investment.

“Now with the door open for Cuban-Americans to visit, to support their families, to invest and to perhaps indirectly buy real estate, it becomes not just an exile community but also an immigrant community with a foot in both places,’’ he said.

One thing that isn’t expected to be a topic of debate in Cuba is exile claims on homes.

Over time, Zamora said, families who occupied the homes of Cubans who left the island have essentially become the owners of the dwellings.

“There’s always been a difference of opinion on residential properties that were taken but now I think most people, with some notable exceptions, have given up on the notion of getting those properties back,’’ said Harper.

He’s been back to Cuba twice since he left as a teenager and visited the home where his family once lived. He found several families in the residence. “From a humanitarian point of view, it would be impractical to kick those people out,’’ he said.

Also expected to change once a property law is enacted is the messy permuta system. Currently, homes that are exchanged are supposed to be of “equal value.’’ But matching up the homes on offer with what people want is often a tricky business.

Sometimes two apartments are exchanged for a large home in a prime area and multiple parties are involved in so-called triangular deals. Although no money is supposed to change hands, there are sometimes under-the-table payments to even up deals or bribes paid to officials to let dubious swaps go through.

Under the new system, someone wanting to downsize from a four-bedroom home with a garage, for example, to a smaller apartment will probably just be able to do the swap and pay the difference in value, said Zamora. “The reform should make the permuta much easier and out in the open,’’ he said.

Besides cleaning up illicit housing transactions, the government has said the reform is designed to help with Cuba’s serious housing shortage.

But Harper said, “The fact that people can buy and sell homes won’t really impact the housing supply. If Cuba had money to build new housing, I think they would have done it by now.’’

Cuba, however, may be counting on real estate owners to expand and improve properties. In its effort to move more people off the state payroll into self-employment, the government has said that renting rooms, gardens and even swimming pools can be considered an alternative to state employment. Permitting home ownership may also encourage home building.

“If people are allowed to sell homes, this is a huge step forward in terms of property rights,’’ said Peters. “It makes assets liquid, a home can be used as collateral.’’

Because of the possibility of freeing up capital when a home is sold, other entrepreneurial activity may be unleashed, Peters said. “This really would be a sign of the Cuban government being serious about letting go of controls,’’ he said.

A Cuban housing market? Govt is lifting a taboo


HAVANA (AP) — Each morning before the sun rises too high, Cubans gather at a shaded corner in central Havana, mingling as though at a cocktail party. The icebreaker is always the same: “What are you offering?”

This is Cuba’s informal real-estate bazaar, where a chronic housing shortage brings everyone from newlyweds to retirees together to strike deals that often involve thousands of dollars in under-the-table payments. They’re breaking not just the law but communist doctrine by trading and profiting in property, and now their government is about to get in on the action.

President Raul Castro has pledged to legalize the purchase and sale of homes by the end of the year, bringing this informal market out of the shadows as part of an economic reform package under which Cuba is already letting islanders go into business for themselves in 178 designated activities, as restaurateurs, wedding planners, plumbers, carpenters.

An aboveboard housing market promises multiple benefits for the cash-strapped island: It would help ease a housing crunch, stimulate construction employment and generate badly needed tax revenue. It would attack corruption by officials who accept bribes to sign off on illicit deals, and give people options to seek peaceful resolutions to black-market disputes that occasionally erupt into violence.

It’s also likely to suck up more hard currency from Cubans abroad who can be counted on to send their families cash to buy, expand and remodel homes, especially since President Barack Obama relaxed the 50-year-old economic embargo to allow unlimited remittances by Cuban-Americans.

“All these things are tied in,” said Sergio Diaz-Briquets, a U.S.-based demography expert. “They want expatriate Cubans to contribute money to the Cuban state, and this is one big incentive for people who want to help their families.”

But few changes are likely to be as complex and hard to implement as real estate reform.

From the earliest days of the revolution, Fidel Castro railed against exploitative, absentee landlords, and enacted a reform that gave property ownership to whoever lived in a home, regardless of who held title. Most who have left the island forfeited their properties to the state. The government, Castro preached, would provide everything a citizen could need: employment, food, education and housing, all for little or no money at all.

But the housing stock, already run down before the revolution, continued to deteriorate, the U.S. embargo choked off the supply of building materials, and new construction failed to keep pace with demand.

Meanwhile, cyclones and salty air can start eating through metal bars in a year and have decimated rural shanties and older quarters of Havana. Empty lots dot the capital’s seaside Malecon boulevard as once-stately mansions regularly collapse following heavy rains. Many of those still standing are merely facades or are propped up by scaffolding and wooden beams.

While they wait for the new law to be enacted and the specifics to be announced, Cubans have few legal options. They can enroll in cooperative construction projects, build on existing properties or join the long waiting list for government housing. Or they can head to the open-air real-estate market in hopes of negotiating a “permuta,” which officially is a swap of equal-value properties but in reality usually involves illegal cash on the side.

Many enlist the services of “runners” like Manuel Valdez, an 83-year-old ex-military man who has been brokering the transactions for four decades. At the downtown bazaar, Valdez holds court on a concrete bench, keeping track of real estate offers in a tattered notebook and on posterboard that he tapes to a tree.

Gesturing at the people milling around hoping to strike a deal, Valdez said housing is such a problem that legalization was inevitable: “This is a situation that the state had to get off its back one way or another.”

There’s also www.revolico.com, a kind of Cuban Craigslist that has real estate ads asking tens of thousands of dollars. Site operators claim the real estate section alone gets 30,000 unique visits a month even though islanders must find a way around the Web censors.

Some Cubans enter into sham marriages to make deed transfers easier. Others move into homes ostensibly to care for an elderly person living there. They register at the address and, after enough time passes, can legally claim the “inherited” title. Nowhere is there an official record of the money changing hands.

A Havana professional with a job that pays far more than most salaries on the island told of swapping his tiny apartment about 10 years ago for a bigger, historic home whose bathroom and roof were falling apart, and whose occupants, a 60-something couple, could no longer manage.

The couple took over his recently remodeled and repainted flat. They also received $1,200 in cash — something that will no longer be illegal once Castro’s housing reform takes effect.

The professional reflected on the anomaly of people with money but no home to buy, and people with bigger homes than they need, and the risk they all run trying to change their circumstances. Some Cubans have had their homes confiscated when their illegal sales came to light.

“It would be so helpful if you could do that legally,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the transaction’s illicit nature.

“It is such a big problem, the housing situation,” said Diaz-Briquets, who estimated in a recent paper that the country of 11 million people was short 1.6 million units of “adequate housing” in 2010. “They have been trying for years to solve it, and it’s finally dawned on them that the state is never going to do it.”

The Cuban government puts the shortfall at closer to 500,000 homes. Still, the result is legions of bickering divorcees trapped under the same roof; newlyweds forced to bunk up with siblings, cousins, uncles, and aunts; and elderly people unable to repair their crumbling homes.

Juana Ines Delgado’s plight is typical. She shares her tiny studio in Old Havana with her grown son, married daughter and 4-year-old granddaughter, while her son-in-law spends nights at his aunt’s place down the street.

“It’s a marriage that’s not the way a marriage should be, you know what I mean?” said Delgado, 61. “My situation is what it is. … But I hope my children don’t have to end their days here.”

Cuba experts caution that the new measure is just a first step toward solving the housing crisis, and note that it deliberately stops short of creating a freewheeling, capitalist real estate market.

Raul Castro has said home ownership will be limited to one per individual to avoid accumulation of wealth. The government has announced plans to extend credit for purchasing building materials, but specifics are still unknown and no mechanism is in place for home loans. Duties will be levied on both sellers and buyers, and if taxes are too steep it could provide enough incentive to underreport transactions.

Only islanders and permanent residents will be able to buy property, but there’s at least a potential for Cubans to front for foreigners keen on owning a waterfront art-deco masterpiece.

“You start down a path of property accumulation and who knows where that’s going to lead,” says Rafael Romeu, a U.S.-based expert on the Cuban economy.

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Cuba cuts bulk prices to support private workers


HAVANA (AP) — Cuba is lowering bulk prices for goods ranging from marmalade and mayonnaise to tools and CDs to support newly independent workers and small businesses that lack a wholesale market, official news media said Monday.

The measure addresses a central complaint by many operators of private restaurants, cafeterias and other operations authorized under a wide-ranging economic overhaul launched last year by President Raul Castro.

Under an order from the Ministry of Finance and Pricing, a 1.3-gallon (5-liter) container of cooking oil that used to sell for $11.50 can be had for $9.80, labor newspaper Trabajadores reported. A 7-pound (3-kilogram) container of tomato pure formerly worth $8.70 now goes for $7.00.

“The measure also includes tools and pneumatic and electrical equipment, all with the goal of enhancing sales to independent workers,” the article said.

Other products like tobacco, alcoholic beverages and bottled water are not covered by the order. Trabajadores did not say when it took effect.

Although the initiative targets private businesses, the same prices will apply for anyone making bulk purchases.

Cuba began allowing increased private enterprise at the end of 2010, issuing licenses for people to launch small businesses and hire employees independently of the state.

The government, which currently employs 80 percent of the labor force, plans massive layoffs although those plans have been put on hold.

Many entrepreneurs have complained about a lack of access to a wholesale market or to credit, as well as high tax rates. Cuba has said it plans to extend loans, but details have not been released.

The government fixes prices, and while some products are heavily subsidized and discounted, many other imported goods go for more than double their value elsewhere.

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Marketplaces dot Havana for new private vendors


HAVANA (AP) — Marketplaces full of vendors hawking everything from food to religious items may be common sights across Latin America, but they’re springing up for the first time in the Cuban capital as the island’s Communist government opens its tightly controlled economy to some private-sector activity.

Nearly 140 official points of sale in abandoned structures, parking lots and crumbling old buildings have been established in recent months and are accommodating about 2,600 independent vendors, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported Friday. The number of markets “should grow steadily,” Luis Carlos Gongora, vice president of Havana’s Provincial Administration Council, told the newspaper.

Cuba only recently began licensing a broad spectrum of private sector activity, giving rise to a nascent and growing class of self-employed people.

Former health care worker Andres Lamberto Diaz, who took out a license for to sell clothes, shoes and jewelry, said he pays 40 pesos ($1.60) a day — on top of his taxes and license fees — for the right to set up shop on a lot where few traces remain of what was an old mansion in busy Central Havana.

“Things are organized here, and the flow of people along the avenue is good,” Diaz said. “Nevertheless, I think it’s a lot to pay each day for the space.” Official salaries average about $20 a month in Cuba.

Faustino Agramonte, the state administrator of the market, said it houses 21 independent merchants, and officials are looking at possibly expanding into a little-used parking lot on the site of another collapsed building.

Buckets, spatulas, cheese graters and soup pots hung from one stand Friday. Colorful clothing was on offer at another, strung up underneath a canvas tarp to protect it from the intense tropical sun. The market launched in early 2010.

Under the new rules governing independent businesses, many people have set up shop in their own houses. Not all Cubans, however, live in spaces appropriate for home businesses, and many are taking to the streets. The government has accomodated the trend by creating authorized vending zones where sellers can gather.

Officials are considering adjustments to the tax structure for independent operators, Granma said.

Mired in deep financial woes and hamstrung by inefficiency in state-run businesses, Cuba announced last August that it would be implementing major changes in hopes of rescuing its troubled economy. From the end of 2010 through May, more than 200,000 Cubans became licensed independent workers.

President Raul Castro insists that the new private-sector activity is meant to “update” Cuba’s socialist model, not replace it with the free market.

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Tax system to get complete overhaul


The Cuban government will completely overhaul the country’s tax system, Vladimir Requeiro, deputy chief of the Oficina Nacional de Administración Tributaria (ONAT), announced on state TV.

The overhaul of the tax law of 1994 is occurring as the number of self-employed Cubans is skyrocketing. As of early May, more than 300,000 Cubans were licensed to operate small businesses, up from 130,000 in October last year, when the government began issuing self-employment licenses. Officials announced in May that all private businesses will be allowed to hire; however, a 313-point document outlining economic changes outlines progressive employment taxes that increase with the number of employees of a company.

According to the “Guidelines” document, the new businesses must pay 25 to 50 percent taxes on profits, 10 percent sales or service tax, 25 percent employment tax, and 25 percent social security contribution.

Requeiro said that tax rates will be according to income bracket, and that agricultural producers benefit from a special tax system to stimulate food production.

Most Cubans have never had to pay taxes. Even so, Cuban economists expect the government to collect hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenues this year from private businesses.

Soruce: Cubastandard.com

Cuba’s cigar industry – Smoked out


Economist:

ONE of the reforms approved at this month’s Congress of Cuba’s ruling Communist Party was a change in the treatment of the country’s 3,000 or so state-owned enterprises. Their management will enjoy more autonomy, but they will be subjected to thorough audits. That follows a trickle of corruption scandals. The latest involves Habanos, the state cigar monopoly.

For over a decade Manuel García, Habanos’s commercial vice-president, was the public face of the Cuban cigar industry, living a jet-set life that most Cubans can only dream of. But this year Mr García was not there to greet visitors at the Havana cigar festival. Since August 2010 he has been in jail, accused of masterminding graft on a grand scale.

The cigar industry was nationalised shortly after the 1959 revolution. But it was only in the late 1980s that Cuba took control of distribution, informing foreign retailers that it would supply only one distributor per region, in return for a 50% stake in the business.

That did not prevent the small-scale peddling of black-market cigars on the streets of Havana. But in the past decade the system has faced a bigger threat from dozens of online cigar retailers operating mainly from Switzerland and the Caribbean. Many operated legitimately, but some offered improbably low prices.

Cuban investigators believe they were able to do so because Mr García and ten of his staff, who also face trial, sold genuine cigars at a fraction of their normal price to black-market distributors in the Caribbean in return for bribes. Up to 45m cigars may have been sold this way. Since handmade habanos fetch up to £40 ($65) each in shops in the St James’s district of London, the loss was considerable.

The fraud also hurt Imperial Tobacco, a British company which inherited a 50% stake in Habanos when it bought Altadis, a Franco-Spanish firm, in 2008. Imperial has made no comment on the affair. But like the government, it will hope that the new management team at Habanos preserves the lucrative monopoly in Cuba’s most famous product.

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Cuba approves economic changes at party summit


HAVANA (AP) — Cubans hoped to get details Tuesday of the sweeping economic changes and new leadership choices their government approved in closed-door meetings as the Communist Party held its last day of talks, to be concluded with a closing speech by President Raul Castro.

With Castro widely expected to take over from his brother Fidel as the party’s first secretary, all eyes will be on the selection of his new No. 2, which could signal a possible favored successor.

Delegates approved about 300 economic proposals in a unanimous vote Monday — including a measure that apparently recommends legalizing the buying and selling of private property.

Also on the table was a proposal to eventually eliminate the monthly ration book, which provides Cubans with a basic basket of heavily subsidized food and other goods. Other measures envision providing seed capital for would-be entrepreneurs and eliminating the island’s unique dual-currency system.

Among those who voted in favor was former leader Fidel Castro, who along with his brother was named a delegate to the Congress.

“The economic policy (approved here) follows the principle that only socialism can preserve the victories of the revolution,” said Marino Murillo, an ex-economy minister in charge of implementing the reforms.

Cubans were treated to a two-hour broadcast on state-run television late Monday of Communist Party committee members debating the finer details of the package of proposals, which have not yet been made public, although they are based on ideas that have been discussed extensively in recent months.

Delegates could be seen referencing subclauses by number and flipping through pages in front of them, as projectors juxtaposed close-ups of original and revised texts.

At one point, a committee discussing changes to agricultural laws voted on a small change in the wording of a sentence covering artificial insemination of livestock.

“We need to emphasize in the guideline that we should be aiding genetic development and artificial insemination,” said one delegate.

“We are in agreement with the proposal,” another committee member replied, before the discussion turned to ways to spur greater milk production.

The Party Congress does not have the power to enact the changes into law, but the suggestions are expected to be acted upon quickly by the National Assembly over the coming days and weeks.

Officials called the gathering to set a new course for Cuba’s economy and rejuvenate an aging political class composed largely of octogenarians who led Cuba’s 1959 revolution.

On Monday, an official photograph shot inside the spacious convention hall where the party confab was taking place showed Castro placing his vote inside a ballot box. “Candidacy for Members of the Central Committee,” it read. A box that said “Vote for All” was checked on the ballot, indicating that Castro had approved an entire slate of candidates, though their names were not visible.

Fidel and Raul Castro have held the top two spots in the Communist Party since its creation in 1965. But at this year’s Sixth Party Congress, there is an air of mystery surrounding the leadership vote.

In March, Fidel, 84, revealed that he had resigned as first secretary of the party when he ceded the presidency to Raul several years ago, although the party’s website still lists him as its leader.

In a speech opening the Congress this weekend, Raul warned that a new generation is needed to take over when the old guard is gone.

He even proposed term limits for officials including the president — a taboo subject during the half-century in which Cuba has been ruled by either him or his brother. The goal is to create opportunities for younger politicians so they can gain experience, Raul said.

The speech intensified speculation the job might go to someone such as Lazaro Exposito, the young Communist Party chief in Santiago de Cuba, or Murillo, who has had a leading role in Congress.

In a long opinion piece that appeared in state-run newspapers and websites Tuesday, Fidel Castro said he was all for the term-limit proposal made by Raul, despite the fact that he himself ruled the island for more than 47 years.

“I like the idea (of term limits),” Fidel wrote. “It is a subject on which I have long meditated.”

The revolutionary icon says that while in power, “I must confess I was never very worried about how long I exercised the role of president … and first secretary of the party.”

The former leader also said he was glad that Raul put the names of their aging revolutionary comrades on a list of potential new party leaders, but that their inclusion was purely honorary, and that both men knew it was time to elect younger leaders — particularly women and Cubans of African descent.

Fidel said his brother had shown him his proposals days before sharing them with the Congress, an apparent effort to counter any rumors that the two men disagreed.

“He shared (the report) with me several days ago on his own initiative, just as he has with many other subjects without my asking him,” Fidel wrote.

Cuba to allow sale of private homes for first time since revolution


Cuba plans to allow people to buy and sell their homes for the first time since the 1959 revolution brought Fidel Castro to power, the BBC reports.

The decision came during the first congress held by the ruling Communist Party in 14 years.

No details were released on how the new property sales could work, but President Raul Castro is likely to elaborate on a wide-range of economic refroms during a closing speech today in Havana, The Miami Herald reports.

Cubans currently can could only pass on their homes to their children, or work out complicated, and often corrupt, swaps, the BBC reports.

While loosening the power on sale of property, Castro warns that the concentration of property would not be allowed.

Fidel Castro, 84, wrote in an editorial in the party newspaper Monday that he embraces the economic reforms. He no longer holds an official government or party post.

With Castro’s departure from a party position. the person elected to fill the No. 2 spot will be a major clue as to the direction of the country, The Miami Herald notes.

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Cuba congress embraces, refines Raul Castro reforms


HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s Communist Party congress suggested refinements to President Raul Castro’s wide-ranging national reforms in weekend meetings, but generally embraces his overhaul of the ailing Cuban economy, state-run media reported on Monday.

The 1,000 delegates met in five separate commissions on Sunday where they backed Castro’s proposals to slash government jobs, cut the universal monthly food ration, encourage more private initiative and take other steps to boost productivity while maintaining central planning.

The panels would present their findings to the congress on Monday afternoon, Communist Party newspaper Granma said. Approval seemed certain for the reforms to what is one of the last one-party communist states of its kind in the world.

State media accounts did not indicate any dissent to President Castro’s plan, but said a number of proposed reforms had been added to the 311 being considered by the congress.

The congress must elect new leadership for Cuba’s highest political body and only legal political party before the meeting ends on Tuesday. The election will be closely watched for up-and-coming new party bosses to replace aging leaders.

Former leader Fidel Castro, 84, who handed over the presidency in 2008 to his younger brother Raul, 79, chimed in with his support in a front page column in Granma, saying he had listened in on Sunday’s meetings and was impressed.

“The new generation is called to rectify and change without hesitation all that must be rectified and changed, and to continue demonstrating that socialism is also the art of making the impossible happen,” he said.

He described “the impossible” as “building and bringing about the revolution of the poor, by the poor and for the poor, and defending it for half a century from the most powerful military power that ever existed,” referring to the United States. This is a long-standing maxim of the nationalist Cuban Revolution that Fidel Castro led in 1959.

Fidel Castro did not attend the congress opening. Foreign media were not allowed in to the Sunday sessions.

JOBS, HOMES, FOOD RATION

The commissions focused on broad topics like the need to build a better business culture and specifics such as taxation for Cuba’s more than 200,000 newly self-employed.

They endorsed a proposal that tax rates be reviewed periodically and suggested that they be adjusted locally so as not to be too burdensome in areas of low economic activity.

The need to get more young people into agriculture was discussed and there were suggestions that more vacant land be used to create jobs. In the last two years, more than 113,000 Cubans have leased land to grow crops as Cuba tries to reduce budget-draining food imports.

The commissions backed reforms to increase sugar production, which has steadily declined, but said the plan should include money to keep aging sugar mills in good repair.

A lack of construction materials was cited in a discussion on a shortage of housing and deterioration of existing homes.

What Granma described as a “tense” housing situation could be eased by encouraging more people to go into construction by making it more profitable and by providing loans to private contractors, the commissions said.

They supported a proposal to allow the buying and selling of homes, and to make it easier to do house swaps, a change sure to be warmly welcomed by ordinary Cubans.

The commission discussing the fate of the food ration backed President Castro, who said on Saturday the ration given all Cubans since 1963 had become an “unsupportable burden” for the state and must be cut out for those who do not need it.

The “libreta” ration book is one of the trademark features of the paternalistic socialist system that President Castro is seeking to make more efficient.

Castro’s plan to cut more than 1 million government jobs over the next few years, “without hurry but without pause” as he said on Saturday, was also endorsed.

Among other topics discussed were construction of golf courses and marinas to improve tourism and allowing small, private mining operations.

While Castro wants to ease the grip of the state, delegates made clear it would not disappear. They endorsed a planned economy and the country’s principal means of production remaining in state hands.

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