Cuba’s vice president: Country must become more efficient to win ‘economic war’
By: WILL WEISSERT - Associated Press
Cuba needs to produce higher-quality goods more efficiently, cut graft and reduce reliance on gasoline, a major economic leader said in remarks published Sunday.
Vice President Carlos Lage delivered a frank assessment of his country’s economic future during a closed-door speech Saturday that was later reported in state media, saying the communist government has become accustomed to producing shoddy merchandise and undertaking unsustainable economic initiatives.
“We live in the conditions of a country facing economic war,” Lage told the leadership of Cuba’s central workers union, though he added that Cuba is “a country that is strong and has the conditions and possibilities to move forward.”
Lage heads Cuba’s Cabinet and exercises wide control over administration and economic policy in the provisional government running Cuba since Fidel Castro stepped aside due to illness in July 2006.
Lage said Cuba needs to slash the amount of oil it uses and must improve production of goods that meet basic needs for its population instead of poor-quality consumer goods.
“The need to produce quality and, moreover, to do it saving energy, has to be incorporated in the economic culture of every worker,” he said.
Lage said Cuba needs labor leaders and administrators who can solve problems——including rampant employee theft of state materials——instead of just parroting empty statistics.
“We should not do anything we know we aren’t capable of sustaining,” Lage said, possibly a veiled allusion to the sort of periodic economic crusades that Castro summoned during his 47 years in power.
Cuba says it is under siege by Washington’s 45-year-old embargo, but its economy has been relatively strong of late, thanks to oil sold at favorable prices by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as well as credits from China.
The 81-year-old Castro has not been seen in public since announcing that he had undergone emergency intestinal surgery and was ceding power to his younger brother, Raul.
Raul Castro has suggested the island could seek more foreign investment and called for unspecified “structural changes” in the farming sector, sparking widespread debate within the Communist Party and other sectors about Cuba’s economic future.
The younger Castro, 76, said last week that Cubans shouldn’t be afraid to speak their minds about economic reform, saying they should do so “with bravery, with sincerity, without many illusions that we are magicians and are going to resolve problems.”
Raul Castro is said to be impressed by China’s market-oriented reforms.
Lage, who turns 56 next month, has been mentioned as a future president by some foreign analysts.
Both he and Raul Castro have played key roles in reforming Cuba’s economy, encouraging foreign investment and tourism while allowing some private business to stave off collapse after Soviet Bloc disbanded and billions of dollars in subsidies to the island suddenly dried up.