AFP “The National Assembly is not announcing what people want: changes,” Paya said.

By Rigoberto Diaz (AFP) – 1 day ago

HAVANA — Crisis-wracked Cuba’s National Assembly met Saturday for a session set to unveil further belt-tightening measures following a warning by President Raul Castro that they would tough and unpleasant.

The assembly also was expected to set up a new economic auditing and monitoring office meant to help curb corruption and reduce waste in the Americas’ only one-party communist regime.

The Cuban Communist Party on Wednesday and the cabinet on Thursday approved the austerity measures but so far neither has provided details.

Dissident Oswaldo Paya, who has called for economic and political reform within the current system, told media that lawmakers were missing the point.

“The National Assembly is not announcing what people want: changes,” Paya said.

“Quite the contrary what General Raul Castro … is announcing are tough and really unpleasant measures,” he added.

Friday, the Cuban government signaled it was in crisis mode: downgrading its forecast for economic growth for the second time in a week, and saying that dire economic straits forced a delay in the ruling Communist Party’s upcoming congress.

Raul Castro, 78, said growth would hit just 1.7 percent, a statement in official media said. That came after an earlier downgrade this week to 2.5 percent from six percent.

Havana, strapped for cash and hard put to get international financing, said imports had to be reduced. But it did not immediately say how that might be achieved.

There would be “tough measures, not at all pleasant ones, but they simply cannot be put off,” Castro said at a party meeting, state media reported.

The Communist Party congress is a major but infrequent event in Cuba at which broad outlines of the party’s doctrine and policies are made public.

It is supposed to be held every five years but the last one was held in 1997 and it has since been postponed and pushed back — even as Cubans grumble about the pressing need for economic change.

Castro said that the economic crisis meant that a party congress, as Cuba faces a possible shift to a new generation of leaders, would have to wait.

Fidel Castro, president for five decades before retiring in ill health, turns 83 next month.

The next party congress “cannot be just another event,” Raul Castro said.

“The most likely thing is that, given the nature of life, this will be the last congress led by the Revolution’s historic leadership,” the president said.

“If we want to hold a real congress, searching for solutions to our problems and looking forward to the future, that’s how it should be,” Raul Castro added, according to the report.

Cubans earn an average of 17 dollars a month, energy is rationed and Cubans with no access to hard currency face tough daily battles to make ends meet. The government is urging Cubans to boost domestic food production, but has not unveiled wide-ranging economic reforms.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved. More »


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