WORLDPOST

Cuba revising travel policies: Raul Castro

08/01/2011 09:53 pm ET | Updated Oct 01, 2011

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba will revise its travel and immigration rules as part of a broader reform of its economic and social policies, Cuban President Raul Castro said on Monday.

He spoke after the Cuban Parliament approved Communist Party proposals to overhaul the country's stagnating, state-dominated economy and lift some restrictions on citizens' personal lives.

"The country is modifying decisions that played a role at a certain moment and unnecessarily were never changed," the Prensa Latina news agency quoted Castro as stating.

"Today the overwhelming majority of Cuban immigrants leave for economic reasons and almost all of them maintain their love for family and the country where they were born," Castro said.

He said rules still in place dated back to the earlier years of the revolution when immigration was largely political and manipulated by the United States.

It was not immediately clear what the changes in travel and immigration policy would entail. But Cuban regulations, which make it difficult and expensive to travel or move abroad, have long been criticized by local residents and human rights groups.

The economic reform plan approved by the National Assembly includes more than 300 points. It was first approved at a Communist Party Congress in April and would definitively do away with the decades-old paternalistic society built under Fidel Castro's leadership.

Foreign journalists were not invited to the parliamentary meeting addressed by Castro. But he was paraphrased by state-run media as urging lawmakers and all citizens to adjust to the new times and model he is pushing by shedding bureaucratic habits.

"President Raul Castro said today that a change in mentality is indispensable to put into practice the changes the country needs," Prensa Latina said.

ECONOMY SEEN IMPROVING

The measures, some already being implemented, were improving economic performance, Castro said, with growth at 1.9 percent in the first half of 2011 and on track toward 2.9 percent for the year, compared with 2.1 percent in 2010.

The reforms, to be implemented over five years, slash more than a million government jobs and reduce the state's role in sectors such as agriculture, retail services, transportation and construction in favor of private small businesses, cooperatives and leasing.

Larger state companies are freed up to make more of their own decisions and take into account market forces, while regulations that prohibit normal personal affairs such as buying and selling cars and homes would be loosened.

At the same time state subsidies for everything from food to utilities will be gradually eliminated and state wages, which average the equivalent of $18 per month, increased.

The state has monopolized more than 90 percent of all economic activity and employed a similar percentage of the labor force since the earliest days of Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.

The country, which faces a stiff U.S. trade embargo, has yet to fully emerge from a two-decades-old economic crisis sparked by the demise of former benefactor the Soviet Union.

Castro has pushed for a new economic and social model based on individual effort and reward with targeted welfare, to replace one based on collective labor and consumption.

Raul Castro first replaced his ailing brother Fidel five years ago and then became president in 2008.

The single chamber parliament meets two times a year for only a few days and just about all of its members hold positions in, or are members of, the Communist Party, the only legal political organization in the country.

(Editing by Tom Brown and Eric Beech)

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