Sunday, July 13, 2008

Castro warns Cubans of coming hardships

Miami Herald

Posted on Sat, Jul. 12, 2008
Castro warns Cubans of coming hardships
Cuban leader Raúl Castro warned Cubans to work hard and do their jobs to the strictest standards in the face of an international economic crisis that is sure to hit the nation hard.

In a speech Friday night at the closing session of the National Assembly, Castro stressed that the country had to increase its food production and streamline its construction sector in order to survive. Alluding to an infamous speech he once gave saying that ''beans are as important as canons,'' Castro said Friday: ``These days, beans are more important than canons.''

He warned that the amount of land dedicated to food cultivation is down 33 percent in the past nine years. To import the same amount of food the country consumed in 2007, cash-strapped Cuba will need to spend $1 billion more this year.

That means Cuba may have to slow down efforts to raise salaries, a key issue for the average worker who makes about $17 a month.

''It will depend on the economic situation of the country, inevitably linked to crisis in the world today, which could worsen,'' he said in a speech streamed live on the Cubavision TV station website. ``It wouldn't be ethical to create false expectations. We would like to go more rapidly, but it's necessary to act realistically.''

Castro officially assumed the presidency Feb. 24 after serving more than a year as interim president. He took over after his brother fell ill, leaving office for the first time in 47 years.

On Friday, he called for retired teachers to return to the classroom, saying Cuba was suffering a shortage of school instructors. He also stressed Cuba's aging workforce, which could force the government to raise the retirement age by year's end.

In 17 years, Cuba will have more than 750,000 fewer workers than it currently has, he said.

Castro's first months in office were marked by modest reforms in the consumer sector, such as allowing Cubans to own their own cellphones and buy DVD players.

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