Raul Castro showing impatience at slow reform pace

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 24, 2011 12:55 PM
Raul Castro showing impatience at slow reform pace

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban President Raul Castro has sounded increasingly impatient in recent months with the slow implementation of his economic reforms, which he publicly blames mostly on bureaucratic sloth and resistance to change.

In public statements, he has accused government cadres of laziness, corruption, neglect and ideological rigidity and has repeatedly urged them to reject old revolutionary dogma and embrace new ways of thinking.

"Let us clean our heads of foolishness of all kinds. Don't forget that the first decade of the 21st century has already passed, and it's time," he sternly told the National Assembly on August 1.

His more than 300 reforms, some already in place, but most still pending, will liberalize Cuba's struggling, Soviet-style economy by emphasizing greater private initiative, reducing subsidies, decentralizing government and slashing a million people from government payrolls.

The goal is to assure the future of Cuban communism after he and his elderly leadership team are gone.

While he has counseled patience in implementing the changes, he told the National Assembly that global economic problems required faster improvements.

"The biggest obstacle we confront ... is the psychological barrier formed by inertia, inflexibility, pretense or double standards, indifference and insensibility," Castro said.

He has spoken about those topics since soon after his rise to power when older brother Fidel Castro fell ill in July 2006, but his complaints have taken on added bite over time.

Last December, Castro spoke bluntly to the National Assembly about dishonesty among the ranks.

"We must struggle to eradicate once and for all lies and deceit from the cadres' behavior at all levels," he said.

DO NOT LIE, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BE LAZY

He cited the three basic principles of the Inca civilization -- do not lie, do not steal and do not be lazy -- and said: "Those are correct principles aren't they? Let us try to bear them in mind."

At a Communist Party congress in April, Castro said the preservation of Cuban communism "requires a change of mentality ... that is, to do away with the resistance to change based on empty dogma and slogans."

In his August 1 speech, he used some of his strongest language yet to tell recalcitrant and corrupt officials they better get on board with the new ways or a price would be paid.

"I warn that all bureaucratic resistance to strict compliance (with the reforms) will be useless," he said.

"I have never been in favor of pressuring or of abrupt changes ... but faced with violations of the constitution ... there is no alternative but to resort to prosecutors and the courts, as we have already begun to do," Castro said.

But who exactly is Castro railing against? His campaign against corruption has flushed out top-level officials in aviation, the cigar business and telecommunications, a number of whom are now behind bars.

But Cuba expert Paolo Spadoni at Augusta State University in Georgia told Reuters that resistance came primarily "from mid-level government officials who arguably have much more to lose than high-level officials who have benefited from or survived Raul Castro's reshuffle of Cabinet posts," he said.

"Considering the magnitude of the proposed reforms, it is not surprising that there is some ideological resistance," Spadoni said. "There are also social concerns."

Cubans are divided on the changes, with some hopeful, others fearful and many a combination of both.

NUMEROUS THEORIES

Cubans have numerous theories about who opposes reform, with supposed culprits ranging from Fidel Castro to average Cubans who like things the way they are.

"The resistance starts with Fidel, who thinks everyone should be the same," said one Communist Party member and reform supporter who asked not to be identified. The elder Castro has publicly supported his brother's proposals.

Restaurant worker Ernesto Saez laid the blame on many years of government handouts.

"People have been given so many things that they've gotten used to not having to work," he said.

Well before Raul Castro's reforms, Cuba's extensive bureaucracy was known for its inefficiency.

Poorly paid and under little pressure to produce, it was not unusual for government functionaries to receive new regulations from the top, only to ignore them, as Raul Castro has acknowledged.

"Our cadres must get used to working with the guiding documents ... and abandon the irresponsible habit of putting them on ice," he said at the April party congress.

Castro has appointed a high-level oversight group to assure the reforms are carried out, which gave the unidentified Communist Party member confidence Castro would succeed.

"In three or four years, this is going to be the best country in the world," he said.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)