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Castro says he once longed to cling to power; Cuba announces 7.5 percent growth for '07

Castro says he once longed to cling to power; Cuba announces 7.5 percent growth for '07

Fidel Castro said Friday that as a young man he hoped to cling to power but has long since outgrown the urge, the latest ambiguous statement about his future at Cuba's helm.
In a letter read at Cuba's year-end session of parliament, the ailing 81-year-old clarified an assertion he made Dec. 17, that he "was not a person clinging to power."
"Let me add that I was for a time, because of excessive youth and lack of conscience," Castro wrote. "What made me change? Life itself."
By the time he led Cuba's 1959 revolution, he had already realized it was his "duty to fight for (socialist) goals or die in combat," not to stubbornly hold on to power, the letter said.
Castro's words drew a standing ovation from 509 lawmakers at the legislature on Friday, where his chair sat empty next to his 76-year-old brother, Raul Castro.
Castro has not said when _ or if _ he will step aside for good after emergency intestinal surgery forced him to cede "provisional" authority to his brother 17 months ago. He has not been seen in public since, but remains the head of Cuba's Council of State, its highest governing body.
Castro has vowed not to stand in the way of younger leaders, but remains on the ballot in parliamentary elections Jan. 20 _ a candidacy the Communist Party supports, Raul Castro said, suggesting his brother has no plans to retire.
Re-election to parliament is essential for the older Castro to retain his post atop the Council of State.
Also at the session, Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez announced Cuba's economy had grown 7.5 percent in 2007, well short of official forecasts for 10 percent growth. He predicted 8 percent growth in 2008.
Cuba includes state spending on free health care, education and food rations when calculating gross domestic product _ an uncommon methodology that critics say inflated its growth figures for 2005 and 2006, which were 11.8 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively.
Officials have spent months debating how to shape Cuba's economic future, alleviate crippling housing and transportation shortages, and boost agricultural output, Raul Castro told the assembly.
"We'd all like to move faster, but it's not always possible," he said.
"Those who occupy positions of leadership should know how to listen and create an environment that is favorable for everyone to express themselves with absolute freedom," he said. "Criticism, when used appropriately, is essential to advancing."
Agricultural production rose nearly 25 percent in 2007, while the industrial and transportation sectors grew about 8 percent each, Rodriguez said. Exports of goods and services rose by a quarter, largely because the island sends so many doctors to provide free medical care in Venezuela in exchange for discounted oil.
But Osvaldo Martinez, head of the legislature's economic affairs commission, said the island's sugar harvest _ and a government push to build new homes _ had failed to meet expectations.
He blamed slowing growth on an "intense rise" in the cost of food and fuel imports _ the island spends US$1.6 billion to import food each year _ and on falling tourism.
The government should not have raised state salaries without requiring workers to be more productive, he said. Even with those increases, Cubans earn an average 350 pesos (US$16.60; euro11.40) a month.
"It's essential to increase productivity and efficiency, without which salary raises are worthless," Martinez said. But, he later added, Castro's detractors "repeat time and again that the Cuban economy is a total failure.... The truth is the Cuban economy is not weak, but has shown another sign of its vitality."


Updated : 2021-05-08 01:39 GMT+08:00