Raul Castro Speaks About Cuba Food Woes

The Associated Press
Saturday, December 23, 2006; 2:34 PM

HAVANA -- Acting president Raul Castro complained to lawmakers about inefficiencies in the island's economy, telling them in comments made public Saturday that there is no excuse for the transportation and food production problems that anger many Cubans.

"In this Revolution we are tired of excuses," he said, giving the strongest sense yet of the frank and demanding leadership style he will likely adopt if his ailing older brother Fidel Castro does not return as president.

After almost five months in power, it has become clear that the 75-year-old Raul Castro will call officials to account for their actions and demand they produce real results, rather than offer mere political platitudes.

He also has shown a willingness to criticize aspects of the communist system that are not working.

"The Revolution cannot lie," he said in comments published by the Communist Party newspaper Granma. "This isn't saying that there have been comrades who have lied, but the imprecision, inexact data, consciously or unconsciously masked, can no longer continue."

Castro spoke Friday afternoon during a year-end meeting of the National Assembly. He did not address the two-hour session that international journalists were allowed to attend in the morning.

Excerpts of his comments aired later on state television showed him looking gruff and almost angry as spoke in a strong, controlled tone about problems affecting average Cubans.

It was unknown how long he spoke, but Castro tends toward short speeches with concrete messages on local matters _ a sharp contrast to his older brother's extemporaneous discourses that often ran many hours while ranging over philosophical thoughts on world and Cuban affairs.

Lacking the charisma of his more famous brother, Castro will need to make changes that improve the lives of Cubans to gain the popular support necessary to govern over the long run.

Public transportation problems top the list of Cubans' many complaints about the system, a litany that includes crumbling housing, insufficient food for their families and government paychecks that don't cover basic expenses.

Castro's willingness to publicly criticize the system's failings is a switch from the past policy under his brother of extolling the virtues of the revolution while blaming a handful of corrupt individuals for problems.

But it is too early to know whether his frankness could evolve into a more generalized kind of Cuban glasnost, the policy of openness in public discussions that was promoted by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s.

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