Castro layoff plan sparks paranoia

Cuba’s
draconian plan to lay off 10 per cent of its workforce is running into a slew
of problems – not the least of which are the growing fights over who will wind
up on the street.

Cuban
and foreign economists say it’s too much, too fast.

Radical
leftists are branding Raúl Castro as a capitalist exploiter of workers and – in
an odd alignment with Cuban dissidents – are urging workers to fight the job
cuts.

One
well-known historian and Communist Party member has warned of social chaos,
maybe even a mass exodus, and cautioned that the layoffs may be
unconstitutional.

Workers
desperately trying to keep their jobs are accusing others of corruption. And
some blacks and women are warning that those sectors may be hardest hit by the
job cuts.

Almost
no one doubts the job cuts are necessary in a country where the government pays
the salaries of 85 per cent of the workers – many of them in little more than
make-work jobs. Castro has admitted the state payrolls are padded with more
than one million surplus workers.

In
his most significant reforms since he succeeded brother Fidel in 2008, Castro
is laying off 500,000 workers by April and is expected to cut another 500,000
to 800,000 in three years.

He’s
also cutting back other public spending and subsidies, and allowing an
expansion of the private business sector in hopes that at least 250,000 of the
newly laid off workers will be able to support themselves.

Dissident
Havana economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe said he does not doubt the layoffs are
needed, but argued that Castro is doing it the wrong way.

“He’s
doing in a very abrupt, very brutal way, without first creating the proper
conditions’’ by waiting until the private sector had begun expanding, Espinosa
said.

Former
Cuban Deputy Labor Minister Lázaro González Rodríguez wrote in a recent
Internet column that while the job cuts are needed, ‘‘what I can’t agree with
are the methods, ways and time frame.’’

Even
the leftist International League of Workers, active mostly in Latin America,
blasted the layoffs as “a classic capitalist plan’’ and added: “The true defence
of socialism in Cuba today means supporting the workers against this plan and
…demanding the right to strike.’’

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