Mon, Aug 03, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Cuba says socialism non-negotiable

AFP AND REUTERS , HAVANA

Cuban President Raul Castro, left, talks with first Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura during a meeting of the National Assembly in Havana on Saturday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Cuban President Raul Castro warned the US and the EU on Saturday that the country’s socialist political system was non-negotiable, adding he would not “restore capitalism” in Cuba.

In a speech marking the end of the annual parliamentary session, which has been dominated by Cuba’s grave economic crisis, Castro said he would be willing to “discuss everything” except the island’s political and social system.

The Cuban leader, who succeeded his ailing brother Fidel Castro as president three years ago, said he wanted to respond to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statements linking dialogue with Cuba to democratic reform in the country.

“With all due respect, in response to Mrs Clinton, but also to the European Union ... I was not chosen as president to restore capitalism to Cuba or to renounce the revolution,” he said to applause from lawmakers.

“I was chosen to defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism, not to destroy it,” Raul Castro said.

The former army chief, 78, reiterated that he would be willing to conduct a “respectful dialogue, between equals” with the US.

“We are ready to discuss everything, but not to negotiate over our political or social system. We must respect our differences,” he said.

He described as “positive” some measures taken by the US towards Cuba since US President Barack Obama took office, including a decision to lift some travel restrictions.

But the Cuban leader noted that the longstanding US embargo on Cuba remains fully intact.

He also called again for the “unconditional restitution” of Guantanamo Bay, which is home to a US naval base, describing the coastal area as the only place of Cuba where “torture has been practiced” since the 1959 revolution.

On the domestic front, Raul Castro called on his countrymen to “save as much as you can” as Cuba struggles with its worst economic crisis since the 1990s.

His comments came as the Cuban parliament on Saturday approved a series of belt-tightening measures. On Friday, the Cuban government downgraded its economic growth forecast for the second time in a week, and said that dire economic straits forced a delay in the ruling Communist Party’s upcoming congress.

Castro said growth would hit just 1.7 percent, a statement in official media said. That came after an earlier downgrade this week to 2.5 percent from 6 percent.

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