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Cuba cuts jobs to embrace market economy, but still holds 100 dissidents

  |   March 7, 2011 at 7:07 AM
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HAVANA, March 7 (UPI) -- Cuba is cutting back state jobs as part of its plan to embrace market economy in stages but still holds at least 100 political prisoners without trial, independent media reports said.

Cuban President Raul Castro announced plans for massive job cuts -- half a million for a start -- and exhorted Cubans to become self-employed but the tentative step toward market economy of a sort doesn't square with the government adherence to policies against dissent, critics said.

The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation said at least 100 political prisoners were behind bars and cited "low-intensity repression" that led to 2,074 brief, arbitrary arrests in 2010.

The overall situation concerning respect for civil, political, economic and cultural rights remains negative for the vast majority of Cubans, the commission said. It cited documented evidence of 105 people held for political or socio-political reasons, compared with 201 in January 2010.

Cuba released a number of dissidents last year after talks initiated by Spanish and Roman Catholic Church officials.

Havana denies holding political prisoners and brands the dissidents mercenaries of the United States and accuses dissidents of aiming to undermine Cuba's communist system.

However, the government's most recent difficulties are the result of promises made and not yet fulfilled and nearly all related to economic reforms.

Raul Castro said in a television broadcast a state sector target to lay off half a million workers by the end of March would not be met. Instead, he said, a new timetable for turfing people out to seek other jobs or become self-employed would be announced to soften the impact of retrenchment.

The ruling Communist Party has called for a congressional session in April where issues related to the job cuts are likely to dominate the agenda. The government employs about 85 percent of Cuba's known workforce.

Castro didn't give a target date for the planned retrenchments but said the government-led economic overhaul would take at least five years to be fully implemented.

Thousands of committees across the country are looking into ways of cutting the jobs. Analysts said the irony of the committee network wasn't lost on those in fear of losing their jobs, as the committee members would likely hold their jobs longer than those who could go as a result of decisions by the committees and their superiors. It wasn't clear if the committees were wholly voluntary or partly on government payroll.

About 7 million Cubans took part in a total of nearly 130,000 committee meetings called to decide the fate of government employees.

More tangible progress was made in handing out concessions on self-employment and private enterprise. Cubans can now apply for a license to start their own business, rent out space from their homes or farms and even hire other Cubans, especially in agriculture.

Farmers received additional incentives, including fertilizer and seeds, if they promised to boost food production.

Despite those relaxations, the state continues to have a say in all parts of Cuban life but is having trouble getting young Cubans back to work in the old, regimented fashion.

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