Cuban government pitches hard for proposed reforms

* Government staging campaign for support of reforms

* Reforms to be considered at Communist Party congress

* Reaction to proposals is mixed

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA, Nov 17 (BestGrowthStock) – The Cuban government has
launched a hard sell about proposed economic reforms as it
tries to whip up enthusiasm in the public and its own ranks
ahead of a Communist Party congress to approve them in April.

In state-run newspapers, television and radio, the message
is being sent that changes are needed to improve Cuba’s economy
so that socialism will live on once the current leaders are
gone, and that the way they are being adopted is a grand
exercise in democracy.

“In this process, it is the people who decide,” read a
headline in Communist Party newspaper Granma this week.

“The Revolution will come out strengthened,” said another.

It is too early to know whether the campaign is working,
but it appears the government thinks it will require some
effort.

There have been front-page stories featuring pronouncements
by President Raul Castro and inside pages filled with personal
testimony by Cubans enthusiastic about what is afoot.
Television and radio have given similar coverage.

“This process is very opportune and very necessary because
these are new times and we must improve our social economic
model,” said one person quoted in the newspaper Juventud
Rebelde.

“We are going to analyze (the proposals) with the certainty
that it will mark a transcendental moment,” said another.

All the promotion is about a dense 32-page document titled
“Project for Guidelines of Economic and Social Policy”
unveiled by Castro last week which details proposals to
strengthen Cuba’s fragile economy.

The essence of the reforms is reducing the state’s role
while allowing more private enterprise. The government will
continue to own most of the economy, but more self employment
will be allowed in an effort to boost productivity.

Some of the proposals are already in action, but all await
approval at the ruling Communist Party’s first congress since
1997.

SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY

The congress, which has been put off repeatedly over the
years, will be preceded by a period of public discussion in
which Cubans can voice their opinions, which is the democracy
part.

“As has happened in many previous occasions, once again the
people will be the great protagonist … one more example of
our genuine socialist democracy,” said one of testimonials in
Communist party newspaper Granma.

Amid all the talk about the importance of the changes,
Cuban leaders appeared to retreat slightly this week by
insisting they were simply a modernization, not a reform of the
communist system installed after the 1959 revolution that put
Fidel Castro, Raul’s older brother, in power.

“There is no reform. It is an updating of the economic
model,” Economy Minister Marino Murillo was quoted as saying in
Granma. “No one should think that we are going to give up
property.”

The oddly timed statement pointed at a possible reason the
government may be working so hard to sell the changes, which is
that not everyone is fully on board with them.

President Castro reportedly had to overcome significant
internal resistance in the party to push through the proposed
changes and may still be trying to convince the ideologically
pure that they don’t smack too much of capitalism.

Average Cubans also have expressed mixed feelings. They
generally support changes that may improve their lives, but
also wonder whether they will benefit from these.

On the one hand, there are concerns about the amount of
bureaucracy and taxation the newly self-employed will face, but
on the other, worries about the loss of job security and
state-provided subsidies the proposals imply.

“I’m not sure if we win or the state wins with these
proposals,” said restaurant worker Donel Garza.

The government, which employs most Cuban workers and
controls 90 percent of the economy, is planning to lop 1
million workers from state payrolls and issue at least 250,000
self-employment licenses to help absorb them.

It also wants to phase out the monthly food rations Cubans
have received for decades.

Whatever doubts anyone else has, Castro does not share
them, and that may be all that matters.

According to Granma, the president told the first formal
meeting to discuss the guidelines that “there is no alternative
to applying” them. Then he pulled out the trump card in Cuban
politics, invoking the name of his 84-year-old brother, who
resigned the presidency in 2008 but is revered by many Cubans.

“The ideas of Fidel are present in each one of the proposed
guidelines,” Castro said.
(Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Anthony Boadle)

Cuban government pitches hard for proposed reforms