Raul Castro 5 Yrs in Power, Fighting to Raise Cuban Economy
|Cuban leader Raul Castro on Sunday completed his first five years in power amid efforts to pursue an intense economic reform and fight corruption and inefficiency that plague the national economy.
Castro started his government as an interim leader for two and a half years after his elder brother Fidel Castro resigned on July 30, 2006, when Fidel underwent surgeries for intestinal bleeding. Later he was officially elected Cuban leader in February 2008.
Since he took office, the Cuban leader called improvement of the economy the country's top task. The survival of the Cuban Revolution depends on updating the country's economic model and correcting "old mistakes" with "definitive solutions," he stressed.
Castro's measures to update the economic model include privatizing part of the economy to relieve the country's financial burdens, giving enterprises greater autonomy, increasing state revenues through taxes, and laying off half a million workers from the bloated public sector.
Since last October, Cuba's streets have turned on a new look with the opening of new private restaurants, fast food stalls, beauty salons and electronic repair shops.
The "battle" Castro is waging has another important front -- to realize food self-dependence for the country, an issue considered to concern "national security" by the Cuban leader.
The country currently imports 80 percent of the food used to feed its 11.2 million inhabitants.
Other obstacles faced by Castro are to fight bureaucracy and corruption that hamper the country's economy.
In the last two years, Castro dismissed more than 20 ministers for "inefficiency" and convicted several officials charged for corruption and sentenced them to long prison terms.
Castro's social measures, including allowing Cubans to stay in hotels, establish private businesses, buy and sell houses, cars, mobile phones and computers, have gained popularity among the people.
On the international arena, Castro has communicated more with the United States through negotiations over the migration issue and cooperation in fighting drug and human trafficking.
He has also boosted ties with many countries in Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
Known as a "straight and pragmatic" leader, Castro is also recognized as a family man, beloved by his wife, his four children and grandchildren.
It remains a question in Cuba who could succeed Raul Castro, as the country's current "No. 2," Jose Ramon Machado, is also 80.
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