Latin America & Caribbean

Cuba's Raul Castro admits mass lay-offs behind schedule

A Cubataxi cab belonging to the state company Cubataxi is parked near the company in Havana, on 8 February, 2011.
Image caption April's party congress will discuss which direction Cuba is heading

Cuba's plans to lay off half a million state workers by the end of March are behind schedule, President Raul Castro has acknowledged.

Mr Castro, quoted by state television, said the timetable for the cuts would be altered to soften their impact.

The redundancies form part of plans to revive Cuba's struggling economy, an issue due to be discussed at a rare Communist Party Congress in April.

The Cuban government currently employs about 85% of the official workforce.

President Castro, addressing a joint meeting of his cabinet and the Council of State, said given the lay-offs were behind schedule, the timeline would be adjusted, state television reported.

"A job of this magnitude which will affect so many citizens in one way or another cannot be marked by inflexible timetables," the report quoted him as saying.


President Castro did not give a new target date for the planned redundancies, saying only that the overhaul of the economy would take at least five years.

He again insisted that the reforms would "leave nobody behind".

Last September, Mr Castro announced plans to lay off about a million state employees - about a fifth of the workforce - with half the jobs going by 31 March.

This would have been just three weeks before the first congress of the ruling Communist Party in 14 years.

Thousands of committees have been set up across the island to decide which jobs to eliminate and discuss the planned changes to the economy.

Image caption Thousands of Cubans have applied for licences to run their own businesses

According to state TV, the economy minister, Marino Murillo, said some seven million Cubans had taken part in a total of nearly 130,000 such meetings.

But resistance among those supposed to implementing the cuts has clearly had an effect.

BBC Mundo's Cuba correspondent Fernando Ravsberg says a major weakness of the reforms is that those supposed to be implementing them have most to lose in terms of economic interests and privileges.

As well as lay-offs, the Cuban government has been taking steps to ease some restrictions on private enterprise, allowing Cubans to apply for licences to run their own businesses, rent out rooms and in some case hire workers.

President Castro has said that the reforms are vital to overhauling the economy, which is burdened by debt and costly social programmes, as well as the effects of the long-standing US trade embargo.

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