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Fidel Castro Reveals Doubts in Cuba’s Troubled Economic System

September 16, 2010 at 5:56 PM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: The Castro brothers make some dramatic statements and drastic changes on the island of Cuba.

There will soon be a lot less work — government work, anyway — in the self-proclaimed workers paradise. On Monday, the Cuban government said it will lay off half-a-million people over the next six months. In a country of five-and-a-half million workers, more than 85 percent of them public employees, that’s a hefty cutback.

President Raul Castro personally announced the firings and said the government will issue more licenses to private entrepreneurs. He had previewed this move in August.

RAUL CASTRO, Cuban president (through translator): The Council of Ministers agreed to expand self-employment as another alternative to employ the surplus work force, eliminating some of the current bans on new licenses and the commercialization of some products.

MARGARET WARNER: Since taking over in 2006 from his ailing elder brother, longtime dictator Fidel Castro, Raul Castro has taken a few limited steps to liberalize the socialist economy.

Then, last week, Fidel Castro, now 84, was quoted as making a remarkable declaration. In an “Atlantic” magazine article, correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg said he had asked the Cuban revolution’s founder if the Cuban model of communism was still worth exporting.

“The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” he quoted Castro as saying to him and a colleague.

On Saturday, Castro said, Goldberg had misunderstood him.

FIDEL CASTRO, former Cuban president (through translator): The truth of the matter is that my answer meant exactly the opposite of what both American journalists interpreted about the Cuban model. My idea, as everyone knows, is that the capitalist system is longer any good for the United States, nor for the world.

MARGARET WARNER: But, as the island’s economy flags, many Cubans express a desire for change. Havana tourism worker Orlando Samon (ph):

MAN (through translator): I think the Cuban economic model should be reformulated.

MARGARET WARNER:Others, like retiree Luis Ramires, aren’t so sure.

LUIS RAMIRES, cuban retiree (through translator): We need the changes. The changes are necessary, but change for the better, not to backslide.

MARGARET WARNER: Some beneficial change has already come from an influx of U.S. dollars to the island. President Obama has eased restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ ability to visit and send money to family members there.