Cuban Congress Aims To Save Island's Economy

TOLL roads, income and property taxes, savings bonds, price hikes on basic services. And, the cruelest blow of all, baseball fans may have to buy tickets to see their favorite teams play.

Could this really be Cuba?

Looking ever more like a capitalist state, the traditional May Day workers' parades in Cuba were canceled for the first time since the 1959 revolution.

Instead, a special session of the Cuban congress was held to discuss ways to salvage the Caribbean island's shattered economy. ``This moment requires political courage,'' President Fidel Castro told the delegates, adding that the solutions may mean that ``the next day, nobody will speak to us in the street.''

Several proposals were floated in the congress to reduce the principal problem of a growing budget deficit (4.2 billion pesos or 30 percent of the total budget) and too many Cuban pesos in circulation.

Finance Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez suggested the creation of a convertible Cuban peso - as a means to devaluate the currency - and a freeze on peso savings accounts. The official peso exchange rate is 1 peso to $1. But the black market rate is 100 pesos to $1.

Hikes in rates paid for electricity, gasoline, transport, water, and telephone were also suggested. Cigarette and alcoholic beverage prices may rise. The limited but legal private enterprises are also likely to see a hike in income taxes. Mr. Castro warned that self-employment ``doesn't give you the right to become a millionaire.''

Even the so-called pillars of the Cuban socialist revolution - free education and free health care - did not escape scrutiny. Payment for medicine, concerts, sporting events, school lunches, and school supplies may soon be required.

Castro also promised to crack down on the blossoming black market, whereby state goods (which are rationed) are stolen and sold at exorbitant prices.

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