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Cuba To Cut 500,000 Government Workers

Cuban President Raul Castro came to power in 2008.

Cuban President Raul Castro came to power in 2008.

Cuba is undertaking its biggest move toward private enterprise in the economy since Fidel Castro came to power in the communist revolution of 1959.

The Cuban Workers Federation announced on September 13 that the government will cut half a milllion jobs from the public sector between now and March 2011.

In a statement, the federation said Cuba can no longer continue supporting state economic entities employing unproductive workers.

It said nonstate employment -- that is, private enterprise -- will be broadened to absorb hundreds of thousands of people in the coming years.

The move is not entirely unexpected, but the size of the cuts comes as a shock as they involve one-tenth of the island's workforce.

Broken Model

The announcement comes only days after former President Fidel Castro told U.S. journalist Jeffrey Goldberg that the socialist collective economic model is not working for Cuba.

And only weeks ago, Castro's brother, current Cuban President Raul Castro, took a swipe at the inefficiency of the state economic sector when he told the National Assembly that Cuba must erase the notion that it's possible to live without working.

The French AFP news agency reports that in the shift to the private sector, the government is expected to hand out work permits in some 120 different types of businesses, including household appliance repairs, cobblers, hairdressers, mechanics, gardeners and translators. That's according to documents circulating in workplaces.

In addition, state-run cooperatives will be privatized and will continue to operate but will be run by the employees instead of by state administrators.

Radical Ways To Revive Economy

This is by far the biggest reform undertaken by Raul Castro since he came to power in 2008. Hitherto he has made some piecemeal moves, such as turning over fallow land to self-employed farmers and easing restrictions on the possession of mobile phones.

Castro has said his reforms will conform to Cuba's socialist ideals, but it's clear the leadership is seeking radical new ways to revive the failing economy.

The model now apparently favored by the leadership in Havana looks aligned with the Chinese practice of the Communist Party retaining strict political control while allowing private initiative in economic activity.

But Fidel Castro denied in his interview with Goldberg that Cuba would ever institute U.S.-style capitalism, which he described as lurching from crisis to crisis.

written by Breffni O'Rourke, with agency reports