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Raul Castro dashes hopes for new reforms PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Santiago De Cuba, July 27 (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - Cuban President Raul Castro dashed expectations he would announce new economic reforms on Saturday in a speech that instead warned Cubans not to get used to hearing good news.

The speech marking the 55th anniversary of the start of the Cuban revolution broke little new ground as Castro stressed austerity for Cuba and appeared to dampen rising expectations.

Cubans had said they hoped Castro would say more about how far and how fast he wants to take Cuba down the road of reform.

In last year's July 26 speech, Castro pleased Cubans by acknowledging that wages were too low and promising economic changes.

"Really, I had other expectations," said retiree Antonio Rodriguez. "I thought they were going to give new things, but what he did was say the same things they've been saying."

Since taking over in February from ailing older brother Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, 77, has pushed through reforms that raised hopes for change in one of the world's last communist states.

Instead, he told 10,000 people gathered at the Moncada army barracks in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, "The revolution has done and will continue doing what it can to keep advancing and reduce the inevitable consequences of the current international crisis."

But, he said, people "have to get accustomed to not receiving only good news."

In a July 11 speech to the National Assembly, Castro warned that wage increases may be slowed by the stumbling world economy, said Cuba needs to raise its retirement age by five years and called for a better tax system.

Cuban expert Phil Peters at the Lexington Institute in Virginia said he had expected more in Saturday's speech, which is traditionally considered the year's most important address for Cuban leaders.

"What strikes me is that with the big economic problems Raul faces, all he's done so far is agriculture reform and calls for austerity."

Castro began his presidency with a flurry of small, but symbolic changes that included allowing Cubans to buy cell phones and computers and go to tourist facilities previously reserved for foreigners.

Trying to combat rising import costs, he has undertaken broad reforms in agriculture to increase food output by allowing private farmers and cooperatives -- more productive than state-run operations -- to cultivate more land.

Castro spoke at an old army barracks where he was part of a rebel band led by Fidel Castro that attacked on July 26, 1953, to ignite an insurrection against U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Many of the rebels died and the Castros were captured and jailed, but in January 1959 Fidel Castro took power in Cuba after Batista fled the country.

The older Castro, 81, has not appeared in public since his July 26, 2006 speech, after which he underwent intestinal surgery and handed power to his brother.

Castro also said Cuba would not let down its guard militarily against its arch-foe, the United States, no matter who wins the U.S. presidential election in November.

"The defense will not be overlooked, independent of the results of the next U.S. presidential elections. Preparation for the defense of the country goes well," he said.

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