Cuba`s lawmakers examine weak economy

Cuba`s National Assembly opened its biannual session, with the communist island`s faltering economy topping the agenda.

AFP| Updated: Jul 06, 2014, 04:34 AM IST

Havana: Cuba`s National Assembly opened its biannual session, with the communist island`s faltering economy topping the agenda.

President Raul Castro, 83, was due to address the assembly yesterday, which plans to examine why one of the world`s last command economies has not experienced greater growth, after six years of very tentative reforms.

The day-long meeting of 612 legislators and other senior officials got under way at 1300 GMT.

The government has said it plans to end an unpopular dual currency system, but has not given a time frame for doing so. And it did not immediately unveil one Saturday.

In a country where workers earn an average USD 20 a month, the dual currency system is blamed for aggravating social inequality, which also worries the government.
"We don`t want shock methods to be imposed, or for the (change) to be traumatic for people, which also adds to the degree of complication" of the change, said Marino Murillo, the government official in charge of the slow, limited reforms.

Still, Cuba -- the only communist-run one-party state in the Americas -- has refused to adopt market economics as have allies China or Vietnam. It fears such reforms would cause social strife.

The government has pared state payrolls, and allowed more Cubans to be self-employed.

But it produces little outside the mining sector. One of its key exports are government health workers on state contracts.

Havana depends on ally Venezuela for cut-rate oil, and in a country with ample farmland for its population of 11 million, Cuba still imports most of its food.

Agriculture Minister Gustavo Rodriguez told a farm committee that the industry is experiencing "problems in all spheres" on the island, which will spend some USD 2 billion in precious hard currency on imported food.

Cuba`s economy in 2013 grew by 2.7 per cent, below the official target of 3.6 per cent.

Havana last month lowered its growth forecast from 2.2 per cent to 1.4 per cent, blaming "adverse" economic conditions, including fewer than expected funds sent to its citizens from their relatives overseas.