HAVANA – Raul Castro announced Saturday that Cuba will cut spending on education and health care, potentially weakening the building blocks of its communist system in a bid to revive a floundering economy.
The former defense minister who took over the presidency last year called state spending “simply unsustainable” and said the cash-strapped government would reorganize rural schools and scrutinize its free health care system in search of ways to save money.
But he vowed that the island will not see fundamental change even after he and his older brother and predecessor, Fidel Castro, are gone.
“I wasn’t elected president to return capitalism to Cuba,” Raul Castro said, “or to surrender the revolution” – the armed uprising that toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista a half century ago.
“I was elected to defend, build and perfect socialism, not destroy it,” he said to a standing ovation from lawmakers in parliament.
He framed those remarks as a response to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has said Washington wants to see economic and social reforms in Cuba before doing more to improve relations.
Defiant guarantees for the future came only after a heavy dose of grim economic news. Without mentioning specifics and while insisting education will not suffer, he said some students and teachers in rural areas will be reassigned to nearby cities, saving time and money needed to transport 5,000 educators long distances between home and work.
He also said cuts were in store for the universal health care system, which, along with free education through college, subsidized housing and food provided on a monthly ration system, forms the basis of the communist way of life that the Castro brothers have spent 50 years building.
Before Castro spoke, lawmakers established a new office of government finances to crack down on corruption and keep better watch on the state’s spending patterns.