By Juan Tamayo, The Boston Herald
MIAMI – Cuban ruler Raul Castro has blasted bureaucrats for blocking some of his ambitious reforms, an admission that one dissident economist said clearly outlines the shortcomings of his campaign for change.
The biggest obstacle to his reforms is "the psychological barrier formed by inertia, the defense of the status quo, the simulation – the indifference or insensibility" of Cuba’s bureaucracy, Castro said in a speech to the parliament Monday.
"I warn that all bureaucratic resistance – will be useless," he declared. "We will be patient and at the same time persevere in the face of the resistance to change, be they conscious or unconscious."
Castro’s reform plans call for an increase in private enterprise and foreign investments, deep cuts in state subsidies, layoffs for more than 1 million public employees, fewer government controls on state enterprises and expansions in the legal sales of houses and vehicles.
But his words rang hollow to dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who argued that Castro has not seriously tackled a bureaucracy that traditionally derives special benefits from its ability to game the system and the petty corruption prevalent in Cuba.
One key piece of evidence of the bureaucracy’s resistance, Espinosa noted, was a recent official report that state-run farms have not reported all their fallow lands, which Castro wants to lend to private farmers to increase domestic food production and cut down on costly imports.
Another official report last month, Espinosa added, noted that in Cuba, which has long suffered from a huge housing shortage, government ministries, state enterprises and mass organizations own 16,000 rooms in "guest houses" across the country reserved for visiting VIPs.
Castro’s appearance Monday before the legislative National Assembly of People’s Power, which was closed to the public and the foreign news media, was marked by some changes in the usual proceedings.
Although many of his past speeches to parliament and the ruling Communist Party have been broadcast live – Castro usually reads from a prepared text – a video of his speech Monday was broadcast several hours later.
The 600-plus member Assembly also met for only one day, although its twice-a-year sessions – summer and December – most often last three to four days. There was no immediate explanation for the short gathering.
During his speech, Castro also announced the government would take several steps to help Cuba’s fledgling micro-enterprises by cutting prices on raw materials and tools and allowing the businesses to obtain bank credits and hire up to five workers without paying extra taxes.