Could Cuba be in for cuts in medicine, education?
More cutbacks? Cuban state media says govt spending too much on free health care, education
On Tuesday October 5, 2010, 1:39 pm EDTHAVANA ( , AP) -- Cuba has already promised to fire a half-million state workers and reshape its communist economy. Now universal free education and health care, the very building blocks of the 1959 revolution that swept Fidel Castro to power, could face cutbacks.
A signed editorial in the Communist Party newspaper Granma on Tuesday argued that the government cannot continue to run up large spending deficits -- while noting that 46.7 percent of state spending goes to providing free medical care and education through college for all citizens.
"Spending cannot be thought of as a right, and in order to spend, you must have proper revenue," said the editorial, written by Granma deputy editor Alberto Nunez Betancourt.
The story featured a cartoon where a fat man labeled "spending" climbs on a seesaw marked "budget," sending his skinny playmate "revenue" hurtling skyward. It also singled out the high cost of providing basic food to all Cubans through a monthly ration card, as well as subsidized cooking oil and other domestic fuels.
"It is a matter that is going to require analysis and participation to find effective answers," Granma wrote, "as well as a rational use of resources and a permanent practice of saving."
It's the kind of opinion piece in the government-controlled press that can auger imminent announcements of reform. Last October, Granma's editor wrote in a full-page editorial that it could be time to cut back on a ration system that allows Cubans to buy a series of foods at heavily subsidized prices every month.
Since then, the government has cut potatoes, peas and other staples from the "libreta," or ration book, that Cubans have depended on since 1962 to put meager meals on their tables.
Tuesday's story did not say when -- or even if -- cutbacks in schools and hospitals are coming, and it gave no suggestions for specific ways to save money. But its tone was consistent with recent speeches by President Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother as president in 2006 and has said repeatedly that Cuba cannot keep spending so much to keep its citizens healthy and educated.
Castro said in an Easter Sunday address in April that perhaps 1 million government employees were superfluous, and five months later, his government announced it would lay off 500,000 state workers while loosening controls on self-employment and small business, in hopes of growing the private sector enough to absorb many of those out of a job.
The announcement has sent shock waves through a country where at least 84 percent of people work for the state.
The Granma article also referenced Cuba's so-called "special period" of the 1990s, when the disbanding of the Soviet Union cost the island billions of dollars in annual subsidies and trade and brought the economy to the brink of collapse.
The story noted that in 1993, perhaps the darkest year of a very dark economic decade, deficits climbed to 30 percent of gross domestic product.
Cuba is nowhere near that today, with a slashing of spending on foreign food and other costly imports, as well as scores of other belt-tightening measures, helping to reduce its official deficit from 5.6 percent of GDP to 4.9 percent of GDP over the course of last year.
Cuba counts state spending on all social programs when calculating annual economic growth, a unique brand of accounting that makes it difficult to determine its GDP under standard definitions.
Still, by contrast, the White House is estimating that the U.S. budget deficit will reach a record $1.47 trillion this year. An August report by The Office of Management and Budget put America's deficit at 10 percent of GDP in 2010 and 9.2 percent of GDP next year.