Latin America & Caribbean

Raul Castro: No reform but Cuba economy control to ease

Cuban leader Raul Castro
President Raul Castro insists the Cuban revolution is stronger than ever

Cuban President Raul Castro has ruled out large-scale market reforms to revive the communist island's struggling economy.

But Mr Castro said the role of the state would be reduced in some areas, with more workers allowed to be self-employed or to set up small businesses.

Urgent measures would aim to cut the "overloaded" state payroll, he said.

Speaking to Cuba's National Assembly, Mr Castro nonetheless insisted the socialist system was "irrevocable".

He was conscious that the Cuban people expected measures to pull the country out of a deep economic crisis, the president told the assembly.

He said some restrictions on issuing licences to small businesses would be lifted, and they would also be allowed to employ staff.

A scheme launched earlier this year under which some hairdressers are allowed to work for themselves is likely to be extended to many other areas, says the BBC's Michael Voss, in Havana.

Mr Castro, 79, also warned that unproductive or under-employed workers in the state sector would have to find other jobs.

"We have to end forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where you can live without working," he said.

'Capitalist recipes'

Mr Castro stressed there would not be massive sackings of workers.

"No-one will be simply left out in the cold," he said.

Mr Castro rejected reports in the foreign press that had suggested he had been planning economic reforms based on "capitalist recipes".

He also dismissed speculation that there were conflicts in the Communist Party leadership over the pace and depth of change, insisting the unity of the revolution was "stronger than ever".

Speaking to reporters before Mr Castro's speech, Economy Minister Marino Murillo said that while the state would reduced its role in small businesses, it would continue to direct a centralised economy.

"We are studying an updating of the Cuban economic model in which socialist economic priorities will be at the forefront, and not the market," he said.

Cuba's state-run economy has been gripped by a severe crisis in the past two years that has forced it to cut imports.

It has suffered from a fall in the price for its main export, nickel, as well as a decline in tourism.

Growth has also been hampered by the 48-year US trade embargo.

'No impunity'

In his speech, President Castro also made his first public mention of his decision to release 52 jailed dissidents.

Mr Castro said none of the prisoners had been jailed for their ideas, but had committed "counter-revolutionary" crimes in the service of the US.

"The revolution can be generous because it is strong," he said, adding that there would be "no impunity for enemies of the fatherland".

Mr Castro became Cuba's leader when his brother, Fidel Castro, stepped aside because of ill-health in 2006.

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