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April 2010
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Castro Confronts US, EU

Castro Confronts US, EU
By Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Apr 5, 2010 (IPS) – Cuban President Raúl Castro has confirmed
the worst economic forecasts for his country, in an international
context that could become even more complicated following his refusal to
address demands on issues.

Possibly confirming the view of those who observe that in Cuba every
crisis is followed by more entrenched defensiveness, Castro stated
categorically that his government will "never give in to blackmail by
any country or group of countries, no matter how powerful, whatever
happens," in response to pressure from the United States and European
Union governments.

"We have the right to defend ourselves. If they try to corner us, we
will take cover, first of all with truth and principles," he added,
referring to what he called the "massive campaign to discredit Cuba,"
after the death of a prisoner who went on a prolonged hunger strike.

Castro referred, without naming him, to Orlando Zapata, who died Feb. 23
after refusing food for 85 days in prison, according to
sectors in pursuit of recognition as a prisoner of conscience. He had
been adopted as such by Amnesty International.

President Castro declared that Zapata was serving a prison sentence for
14 common crimes, and had taken on the image of a "political dissident"
through oft-repeated lies and because he wanted to receive economic
support from abroad. He was incited to go on a hunger strike and make
absurd demands, Castro said.

As for Guillermo Fariñas, a dissident who went on hunger strike on Feb.
24 at his home in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara, Castro said –
again without specifically naming him – that in spite of all the slander
this man was not in prison, although he had served time for common
crimes in the past.

"As in the previous case, everything is being done to save his life; but
if he does not modify his self-destructive behaviour, he will be
responsible, together with his sponsors, for the outcome we do not wish
for," said Castro, who railed at the "double standards" of those in
Europe who remain silent about rights violations committed by the United

President Castro spoke Sunday, at the close of the Ninth Congress of the
Young Communists League (UJC), the governing Cuban Communist Party's
(PCC) youth organisation comprising some 600,000 members.

The event was widely expected to herald the Sixth PCC Congress,
postponed since 2002.

But the Cuban president did not mention a probable date for the Sixth
Congress, which is regarded as crucial in the country's present
circumstances, nor for the National Conference that should precede it,
which is empowered to add new members to the PCC's leading bodies, and
to dismiss others as it sees fit.

The first secretary of the PCC – the only political party in Cuba – is
, the historic leader of the Cuban revolution, whose illness
in July 2006 led him to step down as president in 2008.

In February 2008, parliament elected Raúl Castro, Fidel's younger
brother, to the office of president. Raúl is also second secretary of
the PCC.

The updating of the economic model is ongoing "in order to set the
foundations of the irreversibility of Cuban socialism and its
development," President Castro told the UJC Congress, while recognising
that "some comrades sometimes get impatient and wish for immediate
changes in many areas.

"We understand such concerns that, generally, stem from ignorance of the
magnitude of the work ahead of us, of its depth and of the complexity of
the interrelations between the different elements that make society work
and that are to be modified," he said.

Economists consulted by IPS said the changes made so far, some of them
in institutional circles and others of a more structural nature, do not
answer all the country's needs, nor do they represent a substantive
change in the economic model.

The pending changes eagerly awaited by Cubans range from migration
reforms to eliminate the obligatory permits Cuban residents need to
abroad, to the elimination of the dual currency, and free
purchases and sales of houses and cars.

"We cannot allow haste or improvisation in the solution of a problem to
lead to a greater one. In regard to issues that are strategic for the
life of the entire nation, we cannot let ourselves be driven by emotion
or lose sight of the necessary comprehensiveness of our actions," Castro

He described the economic situation as extremely complex, and said "the
economic battle is the main task and focus of the ideological work of
party members, because the sustainability and the preservation of our
social system depend on it."

Among the problems weighing down the Cuban economy, Castro mentioned
inadequate agricultural production, corruption, and lack of labour power
in areas directly linked to production, while there are surplus workers
in other sectors.

"Without a sound and dynamic economy and without the removal of
superfluous expenses and waste, it will not be possible to improve the
living standards of the population, nor to preserve and improve the high
levels of education and healthcare guaranteed to every citizen free of
charge," he said.

Cuba is also experiencing difficulty in securing international
financing, a problem that has been exacerbated by the fall in prices of
its main export products, which forced the island to cut back imports by
37 percent in 2009, among other adjustments.

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