Castro to US – Cuba will stay communist

Times Online, Aug 3, 2009

Tim Reid in Washington

Raul Castro at National Assembly meeting

(AP)

Raul Castro speaking at the Cuban National Assembly

Raúl Castro, the Cuban President, vowed to a standing ovation in parliament yesterday that the country would never give up communism, in what appeared to be a direct response to the Obama Administration’s calls for reform.

Mr Castro, the younger brother of the ailing Fidel Castro, also defended impending austerity measures amid a sharp economic downturn in the country. He announced that Cuba would cut spending on education and healthcare and called state spending “simply unsustainable”.

The Government would reorganise rural schools and scrutinise its free healthcare system in search of ways to save money, he said.

Nevertheless, the political ideology of the regime was not in question, Mr Castro declared.

“I wasn’t elected President to return capitalism to Cuba, or to surrender the revolution,” he said, referring to the armed uprising led by his brother that toppled the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista half a century ago. “I was elected President to defend, build and perfect socialism, not destroy it,” he said.

President Obama has been trying to engineer a thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba. Hillary Clinton, his Secretary of State, said recently that Washington wanted to see economic and social reforms in Cuba before the Washington Administration would do more to improve bilateral relations.

Mr Castro reiterated his willingness to improve relations with America and acknowledged “a decline in the aggressiveness and anti-Cuban rhetoric” since Mr Obama took power in January.

The Cuban President made an unusual mention of the mortality of his 82-year-old brother Fidel, something top officials in Cuba almost never do in public.

He scoffed at those who thought that Cuba’s political system would crumble after “the death of Fidel and of all of us”.

He added: “If that’s how they think, they are doomed to failure.”

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