What Do The Recent Changes Announced In Cuba Mean For US Cuba Relations?09/23/10 Robert Lorei
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Cuba is calling workers across the island to special meetings so labor leaders can brief them on half a million government layoffs coming in the next six months and suggest ways that those fired can make a living.
Cuba announced two weeks ago that it would lay off 500,000 workers by March and loosen state controls on private enterprise so that many of those fired can find new jobs. It said it would also beef up the tax code and revamp state pay scales to better reward high job performance.
President Raul Castro warned in April that as many as 1 million Cuban state employees — a fifth of a total island work force of 5.1 million — may be superfluous. In a subsequent speech in August, he warned job cuts were coming.
The president has not commented publicly since the reforms were announced, though he has said authorities have no intention of abandoning the socialist state they spent decades building.
An internal Communist Party document detailing the unprecedented overhaul envisions a radically reshaped economy, freshly legalized private cooperatives and a state payroll trimmed of many idle or unproductive workers.
The document says many laid-off workers will be urged to form private cooperatives. Others will go to work for foreign-run companies or set up their own small businesses in fields such as transportation, food and house rental.
Already, 144,000 Cubans work for themselves and 823,000 overall are part of the private sector, though that includes vast farm cooperatives run in accord with state administrative decisions. The government still employs the other 84 percent of the official work force.
Government workers take home an average of about $20 per month, though the state provides free education and health care and subsidizes housing, utilities, transportation and food.
We’re joined now by two local people who pay close attention to Cuba.
Al Fox is a long-time advocate against the U.S. embargo and founder of The Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation(813 632-3319). And Johannes Werner is editor of Cuba Trade and Investment News in Sarasota and he runs the Cuba Standard web site.