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Castro hints at more belt-tightening for Cuba

Castro hints at more belt-tightening for Cuba
Sun Jul 26, 2009 1:09pm EDT
By Jeff Franks

HOLGUIN, Cuba (Reuters) – More belt-tightening may lie head for Cuba as
President said on Sunday the government will look at making
its second "adjustment to expenditures" this year due to the effects of
the global financial crisis.

He said Cuba needs to press ahead with his program for getting more land
into the hands of private farmers, calling the lone major reform of his
administration a top national priority.

Castro spoke to thousands of red-clad Cubans in the eastern city of
Holguin to mark the anniversary of the July 26, 1953 rebel attack on the
Moncada military barracks in that is considered the
start of the Cuban revolution.

The revolution ended January 1, 1959 when dictator Fulgencio Batista
fled the country and rebel leader took power.

Raul Castro said Cuban ministers will meet on Tuesday to consider
revising spending plans for the rest of the year because "of the effects
of the world economic crisis on our ."

In particular, he said there has been a "significant reduction in export
income and additional restrictions to access external financing sources."

A recent government report said imports are expected to plummet 22.2
percent, or some $3.4 billion in 2009, while exports will decline by
$500 million.

Three hurricanes that caused $10 billion in damage when they struck the
communist-led island last year have added to woes caused by the global


In response, the cash-short government has taken belt-tightening
measures such as scheduled blackouts to save energy, selected factory
shutdowns, public reductions, spending cuts and the freezing
of foreign business bank accounts.

The latter has been partially rescinded after the account holders
threatened to stop trading with Cuba, which depends heavily on imports
of and many other items.

The worsening situation has frustrated many Cubans who hoped Castro
would reform Cuba's economy after taking over from Fidel Castro last
year and quickly decreeing that Cubans could buy cell phones and
computers and use previously off-limit tourist hotels.

But his only major reform so far has been in agriculture, where he
launched a program to let private farmers cultivate unused state land.

He said that of 110,000 applications for land, 82,000 have been granted.
More needs to be done to advance the land plan so Cuba can increase food
production and cut costs, he said.

The island, 90 miles from the United States, imports about 60 percent of
its food.

"It is an issue of national security to produce the products in this
country," Castro said. "We spend hundreds of billions of dollars, and I
don't exaggerate, bringing them from other countries."

"The land is here, the Cubans are here, let's see if we work or not, if
we produce or not," he said, pounding the podium.

Castro did not mention U.S. President Barack Obama or the United States
by name, but referred to damage done by "imperialism" and the
"blockade," which is what Cuba calls the 47-year-old U.S. trade
against the island.

Cubans had hoped U.S.-Cuba relations would improve under Obama, who has
said he wants to end hostilities between the countries that began after
the revolution.

But Obama has moved cautiously, easing the embargo while saying it
should be maintained until Cuba improves it record. Cuba
has said it does not have to make any concessions to the United States.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

Castro hints at more belt-tightening for Cuba | International | Reuters
(26 July 2009)

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