Raul Castro: Economic changes must be gradual

Associated Press Published:

HAVANA -- President Raul Castro reiterated Saturday that Cuba's program of reforms will remain cautious and gradual, despite recent disappointing GDP numbers that show the country's already-struggling economy slowing.

Days after Cuba downgraded its 2014 economic growth forecast by nearly a percentage point, Castro told parliament during the first of its twice-annual regular sessions that the reforms "have great complexity but are advancing" at the necessary pace.

"This process, to be successful, must be conducted with the appropriate gradualness and be accompanied by the permanent control of different party and government structures at all levels," Castro said in a 25-minute speech.

"Gradualness is not a whim, much less a desire to delay the changes that we must make," he added. "On the contrary, it is about a need to ensure order and avoid gaps that would lead us directly to mistakes that distort the proposed objectives."

Foreign journalists were not allowed access to the one-day session at a convention center in western Havana. His comments were broadcast later on state TV.

Vice President Marino Murillo, Castro's reforms czar, said a nascent project to eliminate Cuba's unique dual currency system is continuing and warned islanders that monetary unification itself will not increase their purchasing power.

"For that to happen, we must produce more," Murillo said.

Castro and other officials say the reforms do not amount to an embrace of capitalism, but are rather an "update" of Cuba's socialist model to survive in the 21st century global economy.

Cuba has decentralized state-owned enterprises, legalized home and used car sales and let hundreds of thousands of people open or work for small businesses in the private sector.

Parliament also considered a report Saturday from the comptroller's office on its attempts root out corruption. No specifics were reported on the nightly newscast.

Official media reported that Agriculture Minister Gustavo Rodriguez said Cuba's food imports have reached $2 billion a year, but the government believes the island could produce 60 percent of that.

Cuba's parliament typically meets twice a year, once in the summer and again in December. Lawmakers also called an extraordinary session this spring to approve a law that seeks to attract badly needed foreign investment.

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Peter Orsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter_Orsi

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