Raul Castro’s speech delivered December 28 at the closing session of Cuba’s 2007 National Assembly cast light on problems and promise as the nation enters its 50th year of Revolution.

Castro’s remarks compliment those he offered July 26 at the commemoration in Camagüey of the 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks launching the Cuban revolution. He invited Cubans to discuss problems. The result, according to Castro, was that over 5 million people at 215, 687gatherings provided information and opinion incorporated into his year-end report

The catalogue of problems includes “an excess of prohibitions and legalisms,” an “irrational use of resources through disorganization and lack of controls,” and reduced family income attributed to dual currencies and “deformed systems” of salaries and prices.

On both occasions Castro highlighted diminished food production, flawed distribution, and high food prices which have “a direct, daily impact on people’s lives, especially those with reduced income.” Castro promised that “Studies are underway and action will continue as rapidly as possible so that land and agricultural resources are in the hands of those capable of producing efficiently, [who need ] to be supported, recognized socially, and paid what they deserve.”

Solutions for Cuba’s economic problems will depend on resource availability, elimination of “amateurish tendencies of triumphalism and complacency,” and qualified local leaders with persistence. Castro called for reports marked by “transparency, realism, criticism, and self-criticism” made available at all levels especially neighborhoods and workplaces.

Multiple problems with education, health care, transport, housing, and recreation are to be solved, said Castro, by “efficient investing through established priorities, better organization of the work force and resources, and introduction of modern technologies.” Prime goals are increased productivity, reduced imports, and time frames for investments. Citizens, collectives, and institutions were urged to save money.

Only toward the end of his speech did Raul Castro invoke external factors causing trouble: rising costs of imported food, oil, and “almost everything we import;” effects of the U.S. economic blockade, and natural disasters “produced by climate change.”

He coupled a review of Bush pressures and “desperate destabilization attempts” with an overview of military preparations taken during 2007. As evidence of Cuban influence abroad, the acting president cited Cuban presidency of the non-aligned nations, the UN General Assembly’s crushing rejection of the U.S. blockade, the recent Cienfuegos PetroCaribe energy summit, and advancing Latin American unity.

Anticipating elections Jan. 20 for delegates to provincial assemblies and the National Assembly, Castro cited the Cubans’ high level of electoral participation as evidence of “their decision to preserve and defend the Revolution.” He suggested “that only socialism is capable of overcoming the difficulties and preserving the gains of almost a half century of revolution

Concluding, he paid homage to a people whose “valor and stoicism” is exemplified by the “Five Heroes, prisoners of the empire.” For the New Year, “celebrate, rest, and recover your strength. You deserve it! And work hard.”

Economics minister Jose Luis Rodriguez told the assembly that Cuba’s GDP had grown 7.5 percent in 2007, with allowances given for socially useful but non-remunerative economic activities. Failure to achieve a targeted ten percent increase was attributed to increased costs of foreign imports and shortfalls in food production due to heavy rains. Cuba expects an eight percent GDP increase for 2008.

Castro emphasized his government’s concern that GDP increases “be reflected as much as possible in the domestic economy where shortages are cropping up every day.”
Every January, however, the Cubans have come to count on one bit of non-economic good news, the announcement of the previous year’s infant mortality rate (IMR). In 2006, only 5.3 infants died during their first year out of every 1000 babies born alive – the lowest rate in Cuba’s history.

According to public health experts, the IMR reflects measures of social well being, including families’ education levels, maternal nutrition, access to medical care, especially preventative care.

Cuba’s IMR tied with that of Canada as the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. The United States registered an IMR of 6 with 13 out of 1000 African-American babies dying during their first year. The average IMR for Latin America was 26; for Haiti, 84; for the world, 52; for Western Africa, 108; and for pre-revolutionary Cuba, greater than 60.