Could Cuba be in for cuts in medicine, education?
HAVANA, Shawwal 26, 1431 / Oct. 05, 2010, SPA
Cuba has already promised to fire a half-million state workers and
reshape its communist economy. Now universal free education and health
care, the very building blocks of the 1959 revolution that swept Fidel
Castro to power, could face cutbacks, according to AP.
A signed editorial in the Communist Party newspaper Granma on Tuesday
argued that the government cannot continue to run up large spending
deficits _ while noting that 46.7 percent of state spending goes to
providing free medical care and education through college for all citizens.
?«Spending cannot be thought of as a right, and in order to spend, you
must have proper revenue,?» said the editorial, written by Granma deputy
editor Alberto Nunez Betancourt.
The story featured a cartoon where a fat man labeled «spending» climbs
on a seesaw marked ?«budget,?» sending his skinny playmate «revenue»
hurtling skyward. It also singled out the high cost of providing basic
food to all Cubans through a monthly ration card, as well as subsidized
cooking oil and other domestic fuels.
?«It is a matter that is going to require analysis and participation to
find effective answers,?» Granma wrote, ?«as well as a rational use of
resources and a permanent practice of saving.?»
It's the kind of opinion piece in the government-controlled press that
can auger imminent announcements of reform. Last October, Granma's
editor wrote in a full-page editorial that it could be time to cut back
on a ration system that allows Cubans to buy a series of foods at
heavily subsidized prices every month.
Since then, the government has cut potatoes, peas and other staples from
the ?«libreta,?» or ration book, that Cubans have depended on since 1962
to put meager meals on their tables.
Tuesday's story did not say when _ or even if _ cutbacks in schools and
hospitals are coming, and it gave no suggestions for specific ways to
save money. But its tone was consistent with recent speeches by
President Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother as president in 2006
and has said repeatedly that Cuba cannot keep spending so much to keep
its citizens healthy and educated.
Castro said in an Easter Sunday address in April that perhaps 1 million
government employees were superfluous, and five months later, his
government announced it would lay off 500,000 state workers while
loosening controls on self-employment and small business, in hopes of
growing the private sector enough to absorb many of those out of a job.
The announcement has sent shock waves through a country where at least
84 percent of people work for the state.
The Granma article also referenced Cuba's so-called ?«special period?»
of the 1990s, when the disbanding of the Soviet Union cost the island
billions of dollars in annual subsidies and trade and brought the
economy to the brink of collapse.
The story noted that in 1993, perhaps the darkest year of a very dark
economic decade, deficits climbed to 30 percent of gross domestic product.
Cuba is nowhere near that today, with a slashing of spending on foreign
food and other costly imports, as well as scores of other
belt-tightening measures, helping to reduce its official deficit from
5.6 percent of GDP to 4.9 percent of GDP over the course of last year.
Cuba counts state spending on all social programs when calculating
annual economic growth, a unique brand of accounting that makes it
difficult to determine its GDP under standard definitions.
Still, by contrast, the White House is estimating that the U.S. budget
deficit will reach a record $1.47 trillion this year. An August report
by The Office of Management and Budget put America's deficit at 10
percent of GDP in 2010 and 9.2 percent of GDP next year.