Cuban President Raul Castro told legislators Saturday that the future of the country’s revolution is at stake as the government tries to institute sweeping economic reforms, adding that the changes are meant to strengthen socialism — not replace it.
Castro has argued that the changes are needed to boost notoriously low productivity, and that once that happens, living standards will begin to rise. He urged his countrymen to embrace the changes, and warned that anybody who doesn’t will be left behind.
“The life of the revolution is in the balance,” Castro said in a two-hour speech closing out a twice-yearly meeting of the island’s national assembly. He repeated his contention that the dollop of limited capitalism being injected into the economy does not mean the end of the revolution’s ideal to create an egalitarian utopia.
“The strategic economic changes are being made to sustain socialism,” he said. “They are to preserve and strengthen socialism, so as to make it irrevocable.”
Still, Castro had a message to those who wonder if the Cuban government is serious this time around — since past economic openings have fizzled.
He said the changes are “the result of profound meditations and analysis, and we can assure you this time there will be no going back.”
He urged Cubans not to listen to naysayers — particularly in the United States — who have dismissed the economic changes as window-dressing.
“Our adversaries abroad, as we might expect, have challenged our every step, first by calling the measures cosmetic and insufficient and now by trying to confuse public opinion by prophesying a sure failure,” he said. “Sometimes it seems that their most heartfelt wishes (for Cuba’s failure) prevent them from seeing the reality.”
He also warned his countrymen that they’ll have to work in the new Cuba, and can no longer rely on the state for handouts.
“Many of us Cubans confuse socialism with freebies and subsidies, and equality with egalitarianism,” the president said.
Castro also announced that a major Communist Party Congress where many of the reforms are to be enshrined will be held April 16-19, with the end date coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Cuba’s victory in the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion. The government had previously said only that it would be held in April.
Cuba’s economy minister, who also spoke to the legislators, said the government expected the economy to grow by 3.1 percent in 2011, up from 2.1 percent this year.
Revolutionary icon Fidel Castro was not present. Normally a ceremonial seat is left empty for the former president, with a glass of water set out in front of it. But the tradition was dispensed with this year.