Raul Castro reforms not enough, Cuba's bishops say

 

AFP

 

Havana.- Cuba's Roman Catholic bishops pressed the Americas' only Communist government to deepen economic reforms and hinted at a desire for political opening in a document obtained by AFP Wednesday.

 

In a country with a centrally planned economy where opposition political parties remain outlawed, the Church is the only sizeable non-state actor that has an ongoing dialogue with President Raul Castro's government.

 

And in its Pastoral Plan for 2014-2020, the first such document since Argentine-born Pope Francis's papacy began last year, the bishops were blunt.

 

The government's limited "economic reforms have not jump-started the economy in such a way that all Cuba's people can feel," the document reads in part.

 

During the more than five decades that the Communist government has been in power, health care, education and sports "experienced major progress" but are now "stagnant and in some cases in decline," the document said, referring to what the government sees as its key achievements.

 

Castro -- who replaced his brother, longtime president Fidel Castro who stepped aside in 2006 for health reasons -- has ruled out the idea of any political opening.

 

And on the economic front, he has refused to embrace market economics as China or Vietnam have.

 

Instead, the former military chief has cut the government payroll and allowed more categories of self-employment.

 

But the cash-strapped economy depends heavily on Venezuela's economic aid, and has no access to international loans. Most Cubans earn the equivalent of $20 a month.

 

"Despite the changes there have been," the bishops said, "we sense that many citizens urgently want deeper and more appropriate reforms implemented to solve pressing problems generated by their being overwhelmed, plagued by uncertainly and worn out."

 

While not aggressive, the document is more frank than some in the past which came as bishops were planning visits to Cuba by former and more conservative popes John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012.

 

The new document broached the issue of political opening saying that many Cubans want their state to be "less bureaucratic and more participatory."

 

Some "others who do not accept that way of thinking... are confusing the meaning of nationhood with an ideology, or with a party," the document said.

 

"Dialogue among the various groups that make up our society is the only path toward achieving and maintaining social transformations that happen in Cuba," the bishops said.

 

While Cubans' everyday concerns have begun to emerge in the island's state-run media and many political prisoners have been freed, new dissident arrests and violent attacks against them "continue to be worrisome and not constructive," they added.

 

The bishops also reiterated longstanding opposition to the US trade embargo against Cuba in place for more than four decades.

 

 

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