Cuba’s mass layoff plan bogged down

President Raul Castro acknowledged
what has been clear in the streets of Cuba for some weeks, that a key
government plan to lay off half a million state workers by the end of March is
well behind schedule and won’t be completed on time.

The Cuban leader told a joint
meeting of his Cabinet and Council of State that it was important to proceed
carefully with the layoffs, part of a major shakeup of the island’s socialist
economy that also includes allowing thousands more people to go into business
for themselves.

He did not set a new target date
for the layoffs, saying only that the changes were part of a five-year plan.

“A job of this magnitude which
will effect so many citizens in one way or another cannot be marked by inflexible
timetables,” according to an official statement issued by Castro.

 “How quickly it moves forward will depend
on our capacity to create the legal and organizational conditions to guarantee

Castro told his ministers the
government would “leave nobody behind” as it overhauled the economy,
something he has repeated often while also warning that the country’s future
hangs in the balance if serious changes are not enacted quickly.

Government and union workers have
spoken of delays before, but Castro’s message to the island’s leadership was
the first time the government has said outright that a 31 March goal for
completing the job was out the window, and that no clear timetable would be

The government announced the
layoffs — which would have amounted to one-tenth of the island’s work force —
back in September, and said they had to be completed by the end of March, weeks
ahead of a crucial Communist Party Congress at which the island’s future is to
be mapped out.