Cuba’s revolution hasn’t found fountain of youth

Winnipeg Free Press:

CUBA’S Communist party held its convention this week. There were no surprises, but then there hardly ever are at Communist conventions unless the secret police show up.

This year, the big surprise involved former leader Fidel Castro, who ruled the Caribbean country with an iron fist — Mr. Castro never bothered with niceties such as a velvet glove — for 46 years until stepping down due to illness in 2006 and passing the crown on to his brother Raul.

Fidel had not been expected to make an appearance, but the 1,000 party faithful who showed up in Havana to nod their heads at all of Raul’s proposals gave the old dictator a huge ovation anyway. And so they should have, since they all owe their sinecures to him. At the opening of the convention, Raul Castro had suggested that perhaps it was time for term limits in Cuba, that maybe his brother’s 46 years in power was a little bit longer than is seemly in a government that claims to actually represent the people.

He suggested that maybe two five-year terms were as long as anybody really needed to be in power or as long as it was good for anybody to be in power. For a moment, he almost seemed as genuine a democrat as the Americans he regards with such loathing and who only allow their presidents to serve two four-year terms. (Canadian prime ministers, in contrast, can serve for as long as they can keep getting elected, which is perhaps one reason why our governments so often seem more sympathetic to their colleagues in Cuba than their fellow democrats in Washington.)

Even Raul’s brother, Fidel, seemed to be in sync, suggesting that term limits were “a subject on which I have long meditated.” Now that he is no longer in power — for the first time since the revolution he no longer holds an office — it appears that 46 years of meditation is time enough.

Unfortunately, when the leadership of the Communist party was announced at the close of the conference, nothing much had changed. A few younger people got promoted — Communists in their 50s and 60s — but when election fever had abated, President Raul Castro, who is 80 years old, was elected first secretary of the party and the No. 2 and 3 spots in the hierarchy went to men who are, respectively, 80 and relatively spring-like 78. Cuba, it seems, still needs another revolution.


Cash-strapped Cuba moves ahead with job cuts

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba began the process of laying off thousands of workers on Tuesday, according to a top union official, as one of President Raul Castro’s central reforms to the communist island’s economy picked up steam.

It was not clear if dismissal of the state employees had begun immediately or if several ministries were starting to decide who should go. The government has said it plans to cut 500,000 workers from its bloated payrolls by March.

“It is up to us to be the guarantors of the labor restructuring, which will begin (on Tuesday),” said the head of the Cuban Workers Federation, Salvador Valdes Mesa, according to state-run Radio Rebelde.

He said the union would oversee the layoffs, initially targeting workers at the Sugar, Agriculture, Construction, Public Health and Tourism ministries, to assure they are conducted without “violations, paternalism, favoritism and any other negative tendency.”

The job cuts are part of Castro’s overhaul of Cuban communism aimed at ending the Caribbean island’s chronic economic problems.

Cuba, hit hard by 2008 hurricanes and the global financial crisis, is short of cash and has had to slash imports, freeze local bank accounts of foreign businesses and default on payments to creditors in the past two years.

Castro wants to reduce the state’s role while maintaining control of an economy that will have a bigger private sector and less state spending.

In most cases, laid off workers will be offered other jobs, which they can accept or turn down.

Plans call for about 200,000 of the laid-off workers to shift to employee-run cooperatives converted from businesses currently operated by the state.


The government also has begun issuing 250,000 new licenses for self-employment. For the first time, the self-employed will be allowed to hire workers.

Cubans receive social benefits such as free healthcare and education, but earn on average the equivalent of about $20 a month.

A second round of cuts will be conducted later, with at least 500,000 more workers slated to be removed from state payrolls over the next few years.

The union must “convince (workers) of the need for these measures for the country’s economy, with the security that ultimately no one will be left unprotected,” Valdes said.

Officials have said the government began cutting jobs as early as October, shortly after Castro announced his reform package.

It was rumored, but not confirmed, that layoffs were postponed for a time while the self-employment licensing program was being set up because the government was wary of creating too much social dislocation.

Workers at the Agriculture and Sugar ministries said on Tuesday they had been told meetings about the layoffs would begin this week.

The government has said ministry and labor functionaries will determine which workers are worth keeping, based on their productivity.

“We know that if there’s no productivity, there’s never going to be a raise in salaries. So it’s a necessary measure that has to be understood,” said Mayda Vega, an office manager in the Agriculture Ministry.

“I imagine it will be a gradual process and not traumatic,” she said.

Over 81,000 Cubans Apply for Self-Employment Licenses

avana, Nov. 27 (Prensa Latina) About 81,500 Cubans have applied for self-employment licenses in less than a month; one-fifth of them are linked to the making and sale of food, local newspapers reported on Saturday.

The figure represents the licenses that have been requested since the announcement of the regulations for extending self-employment on October 25, until November 19.

According to the report, 73,800 applications were made at the Municipal Job Offices, 6,100 were made for passenger transportation, and 1,500 for house rental.

Authorities have already granted 29,000 licenses, while another 16,265 are being processed.

From the total, 43 percent of the granted licenses belong to retired people or people receiving some type of pension, and the 12 percent are persons hired by self-employed people.

Havana City and Matanzas, in western Cuba, and Villa Clara, in the centre, are the leading provinces in self-employment applications.

Cuba: Reforms stopped?” width=”277″ height=”235″ /></a><p class=An October photo of a frail Fidel Castro with Ministrel Kirill (Russian Orthodox Church). Image:

Fernando Ravsberg of the BBC writes from Havana about the debate going on in the streets of the capital. Many are asking themselves if there is a paralysis in the reforms started by Raúl Castro and whom is influencing the constrainment of the process begun in February.

Some within and outside the country opine that it is Fidel Castro himself, whose health has improved, is retaking the reins of the country, logically returning to the policies he applied during his half-century ruling Cuba.

Others affirm it is the most orthodox sector of the Communist Party (PCC) who are impeding the changes initiated by Raúl Castro and unstoppable if they acquire majority support of the militant base in the Communist Party Congress.

Communist militants have told the BBC preparations have not been initiated for the Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) scheduled for 2009, where the definitive path of the country will be decided.

Government officials have assured it had to due with the US elections and the Cuban Government was waiting for the results to begin moving its own pieces on the board.  Soon a difference will be noticed.