Monday, April 09, 2007

Cuba studies property issue in quest for efficiency

Caribbean Net News

Published on Monday, April 9, 2007

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters): Cuban economists and other professionals held their first meeting this week in search of answers to inefficiency, theft, poor service and quality in the state-run socialist economy, the official media said.

"Finding new methods to improve economic efficiency and stop corruption are the main objectives of the large group of professionals, who for the first time began a project analyzing property in the country," the Communist Youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde said.

Defense Minister Raul Castro, who temporarily took over the government from his ailing older brother Fidel Castro on July 31, has called on the media and society in general to be more critical of the Caribbean island's problems and debate how to solve them.

A number of economists said they had been commissioned by the ruling Communist party to prepare reports on what ails various sectors of the economy and propose solutions.

"Socialist property in Cuba faces external and internal threats. To fight them successfully science needs to find the causes," economist Ernesto Molina, from Cuba's top school for international relations, was quoted as stating at this week's meeting.

Fidel Castro, 80, is reportedly recovering from abdominal surgery that has kept him out of public view for eight months. He hasn't weighed in publicly on the economic debate but did recently write editorials on global warming and biofuels.

Plans to form the Commission on Socialist Property Relations were first announced in October by Juventud Rebelde following a scathing three-part expose by the daily on graft and poor service in shops and bars.

"The current irregularities in the country's services, in the midst of the search for a better economic model, has meant Cuba still does not have a retail and services sector that satisfies people's expectations," the newspaper concluded at the time.

Cuba's economy, modeled on Soviet communism that ultimately failed, is overwhelmingly state-controlled. The state provides supplies and sets standards and prices for everything from a cup of coffee and ham sandwich to watch repairs and shoe shining.

Cubans have long complained in private about poor state services at the retail level and some economists have proposed cooperatives and even private ownership as in China to solve the problem.

Cuban officials rule out following the path of China, which opened its economy to capitalist enterprise while retaining political power under the Communist Party.

While Cubans are hoping for quick solutions, Juventud Rebelde indicated patience was in order.

"The first results of this broad and complex study on property in Cuba will be known within three years," the newspaper said.

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