Havana (AFP) – Cuban President Raul Castro vowed Saturday never to pursue “privatizing formulas” or “shock therapy,” setting the tone for a Communist Party congress convened to review progress in revamping the island’s Soviet-style economy.
“Cuba will never permit the application of so-called shock therapies, which are frequently applied to the detriment of society’s most humble classes,” he said in a speech opening the congress, which only happens every five years and stretches on for several days.
The meeting, the main political event in a one-party system that brooks no dissent, comes less than a month after US President Barack Obama’s historic visit.
“The neoliberal formulas that promote accelerated privatization of state assets and social services such as education, health and social security will never be applied under Cuban socialism,” warned Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008.
Castro defended the slow pace of change to the island’s moribund economy, which has only cautiously and slowly opened up to some private entrepreneurship and foreign investment.
He again blamed Washington’s more than five-decade-old embargo on the island for its economic impact on Cuba.
The United States and Cuba are slowly normalizing ties frozen still by the Cold War, even reopening embassies in each other’s capitals, but the trade embargo on Cuba remains.
The last congress, in 2011, introduced significant reforms of the island’s economy, cracking open the door to small-scale private enterprise and foreign investment.
This one, the Seventh Congress, had raised expectations in Cuba and abroad that it could set the stage for accelerated political and economic changes following the rapprochement with longtime foe the United States.
But ahead of the meeting Cuban authorities poured cold water on those hopes, signalling that continuity would be the watchword at the four-day, close-door session involving 1,000 delegates and another 3,500 invited participants.