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Economic reforms could hurt Castros

 

Juan Carlos Chavez, El Nuevo Herald

 

The labor reorganization that calls for laying off 500,000 Cuban workers by April, which began in several ministries Tuesday, could negatively impact Fidel and Raúl Castro, several dissidents said.

 

In the next three years, the reduction in government payrolls is expected to affect as many as 800,000 workers.

 

``I believe the general feeling is fear, apprehension and panic,'' blogger Yoani Sánchez told El Nuevo Herald. ``But it seems to me that those people freed from the government monopoly will channel their energy and talent in other ways and will gain social and political autonomy.''

 

Cuba is in the midst of a plan to lay off 10 percent of its labor force. In the framework of the economic adjustment process that must be approved by the Congress of the Communist Party in April, authorities are also cutting subsidies and public spending.

 

DIVISIVE MEASURES

 

The reforms, which the government calls a socialist ``model update,'' include opening the country to foreign investment and the creation of urban production and service cooperatives. The economic decentralization encompasses expanding self-employment in 178 trades for those who meet the minimum requisites.

 

Héctor Palacios, economist and independent journalist, said that the impact of these measures is further dividing the Cuban population.

 

``I think it will take a lot of time to resolve this issue in the way the government wishes to resolve it,'' Palacios said in a telephone interview from Havana.

 

He regretted that there would not be an opening of the markets nor the encouragement of a participative democracy to generate confidence among citizens.

 

``The only solution is to declare a state of law and an open economy,'' he said. ``People endure but in Cuba there is no other possibility because a disaster is imminent.''

 

This week, the adjustments are hitting the ministries of the Sugar Industry, Agriculture, Construction, Public Health and Tourism, according to the Workers Central Union.

 

The Cuban government estimates that throughout 2011 a total of 146,000 government jobs will be permanently eliminated. About 351,000 government officials will move to other occupations as part of the application of the economic adjustments.

 

Of those 351,000 people, about 100,000 must become self-employed. In 83 self-employment job categories, hiring will be allowed only for people who are not relatives nor live with the self-employed. Until now, payment for labor was only authorized for government entities, missed societies and foreign enterprises.

 

`DISAPPOINTMENT'

 

Juan Carmelo Bermúdez, spokesman of the illegal Party of the People, said from Santiago de Cuba that the labor restructuring is not being correctly applied.

 

``There is general disappointment,'' he said. ``Many feel harmed and you can sense the people's fear.''

 

Press reports say that for the great majority of Cubans, ``information has been scarce'' and people are asking a lot of questions and expressing doubts about the process.

 

``The option of self-employment is a life-saver but not an integral solution,'' Bermúdez said. ``We already went through this and people do not trust this type of decisions.''

 

The average salary in Cuba is $20 per month. Last year, newspaper Granma said that the Central Bank was evaluating how to grant credit to the self-employed for development. In 2009, there was a total of 143,800 self-employed workers. This year, the government expects 250,000 additional people to lose their jobs.

 

Contrary to the criticism and fears from internal dissidents, the hierarchy of the Cuban Catholic Church expressed support for the reforms and asked Cubans to ``understand.''

 

During the New Year's Mass in the Cathedral of Havana on Saturday, Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino prayed for ``the normal course of this renovating process for the good of all the people.''