HAVANA (Reuters) – President Raul Castro will mark the 57th anniversary of the start of the Cuban revolution tomorrow on a bit of a roll internationally, but still struggling to modernise one of the world’s last communist economies.
He is expected to make the annual July 26 speech at a morning ceremony in the central city of Santa Clara, beside a monument holding the remains of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Argentine who helped lead the armed uprising that put Fidel Castro in power in 1959.
Raul Castro, who replaced older brother Fidel in 2008, this month sprung the biggest surprise of his administration by agreeing in a deal with the Roman Catholic Church to free 52 political prisoners.
The announcement of the release quieted, at least for the moment, international criticism of Cuba that followed the February death of an imprisoned hunger striker and raised hope for improved relations with the United States and Europe.
But on the domestic front, Castro’s success has been muted, at best, and the Caribbean island remains mired in financial problems.
He will speak to a nation waiting for him to make good on an early pledge to improve the economy and raise salaries that average the equivalent of $18 a month.
The most urgent complaint of most Cubans is that they are tired of having only enough money and government subsidies to scrape by.
“I work every day and I make 250 pesos ($11.30) a month. I have to invent to survive,” said 28-year-old construction worker Enrique, who did not give his full name. “Invent” is a word commonly used in Cuba for finding ways, usually illegal under Cuban law, to make extra money.
Castro has tweaked the system to try to create incentives for greater productivity and to improve efficiency, but he has moved slowly, saying he wants to avoid mistakes that could endanger the future of Cuban communism.