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Raul Castro presents grim portrait of Cuban reform

By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN | Associated Press | Published: April 16, 2016

HAVANA — Cuban President Raul Castro delivered a grim report on the state of the country on Saturday, saying that the communist bureaucracy had failed to implement most of the hundreds of changes the ruling party launched five years ago to stimulate the stagnant centrally controlled economy.

In a two-hour address to the twice-a-decade meeting of the Cuban Communist Party, Castro praised a new era of detente with the United States and an ensuing boom in tourism. He lamented that his government remained unable to address a series of deeper structural problems that have left millions of Cubans struggling to feed their families.

He said Cuba remained saddled by an overdependence on imports, slow growth, a byzantine double currency system, insufficient agricultural production and an inability or unwillingness among state employees to enact 313 guidelines for change approved at the last party congress.

"The obstacle that we've confronted, just as we expected, is the weight of an obsolete mentality that takes the form of an attitude of inertia," he said.

Citing a government statistic that only 21 percent of the guidelines approved in 2011 have been carried out, he blamed the government's inability to turn goals into facts on the ground.

"The slow putting into practice of judicial regulations, and their assimilation into the system, above all, has delayed the implementation of the policy that's been approved," he said.

Castro is in large part confronting problems inherent to the system he helped create. After his brother Fidel Castro overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, he put in place a state in which virtually every aspect of economic and political life came under control of the Communist Party.

After taking over from Fidel in 2008, Raul Castro began shrinking the state and allowing a private sector to flourish. The number of Cubans working for themselves or other citizens has grown to include nearly a quarter of the working population, or roughly 500,000 people. And as the private sector has grown, members of Cuba's massive and powerful bureaucracy have begun to treat it either as a resource to be pillaged or a threat to livelihoods long guaranteed by the state.

Newly successful businesses often find themselves hit by repeated inspections and long slowdowns in obtaining licenses and permits, problems often resolved with a quiet payoff.

Raul Castro directly addressed the tensions between the socialist state and its new private sector in his Saturday address.

"The recognition of the existence of private property has generated honest concerns among not just a few of the participants in discussions leading up to this congress, who expressed worries that doing so was taking the first steps toward the restoration of capitalism in Cuba," he said.

"I'm obliged to tell you that this is in no way the goal," Castro said. "Comrades, it's precisely about calling things by their name and not hiding in illogical euphemisms in order to hide the reality."
 

Cuba's President Raul Castro, sitting center, attends the opening of the 7th Cuban Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, April 16, 2016. Behind are images of men considered to be the party's founders, from left, Carlos Balino, Julio Antonio Mella and Fidel Castro.
ISMAEL FRANCISCO/CUBADEBATE VIA AP

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