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Castro hints at more belt-tightening for Cuba
Sun Jul 26, 2009 1:09pm EDT
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By Jeff Franks
HOLGUIN, Cuba (Reuters) - More belt-tightening may lie head for Cuba as President Raul Castro said on Sunday the government will look at making its second "adjustment to expenditures" this year due to the effects of the global financial crisis.
He said Cuba needs to press ahead with his program for getting more land into the hands of private farmers, calling the lone major reform of his administration a top national priority.
Castro spoke to thousands of red-clad Cubans in the eastern city of Holguin to mark the anniversary of the July 26, 1953 rebel attack on the Moncada military barracks in Santiago de Cuba that is considered the start of the Cuban revolution.
The revolution ended January 1, 1959 when dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the country and rebel leader Fidel Castro took power.
Raul Castro said Cuban ministers will meet on Tuesday to consider revising spending plans for the rest of the year because "of the effects of the world economic crisis on our economy."
In particular, he said there has been a "significant reduction in export income and additional restrictions to access external financing sources."
A recent government report said imports are expected to plummet 22.2 percent, or some $3.4 billion in 2009, while exports will decline by $500 million.
Three hurricanes that caused $10 billion in damage when they struck the communist-led island last year have added to woes caused by the global crisis.
In response, the cash-short government has taken belt-tightening measures such as scheduled blackouts to save energy, selected factory shutdowns, public transport reductions, spending cuts and the freezing of foreign business bank accounts.
The latter has been partially rescinded after the account holders threatened to stop trading with Cuba, which depends heavily on imports of food and many other items.
The worsening situation has frustrated many Cubans who hoped Castro would reform Cuba's economy after taking over from Fidel Castro last year and quickly decreeing that Cubans could buy cell phones and computers and use previously off-limit tourist hotels.
But his only major reform so far has been in agriculture, where he launched a program to let private farmers cultivate unused state land.
He said that of 110,000 applications for land, 82,000 have been granted. More needs to be done to advance the land plan so Cuba can increase food production and cut import costs, he said.
The island, 90 miles from the United States, imports about 60 percent of its food. Continued...
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