HAVANA – Cuban President Raul Castro on Tuesday appealed to a combination of foreign capital investment and austerity to bring about the 2 percent economic growth forecast by the government for 2017 after this year’s growth target was not met.
“Amid the difficulties, we will continue carrying out the program of investments with an eye toward sustainable development of the national economy,” said the president in his speech closing the second and final plenary session of the National Assembly of Popular Power, the country’s parliament.
Castro said that to achieve next year’s forecasted economic growth exports must be guaranteed and foreign sales at good prices must be made, local production must be increased to replace imports, nonessential expenditures must be reduced and rational and efficient use of available resources must be made.
After his call to stimulate foreign investment in Cuba, Castro expressed his dissatisfaction with the progress in this area, saying that “there have been frequent excessive delays in the negotiating process” for foreign investment, according to official media reports.
He urged the nation to overcome the “obsolete mentality, full of prejudices” against foreign capital and to “overturn false fears” against foreign investment because “we’re not going, and will not go, toward capitalism, but we must not set up obstacles to what we can do within the framework of the prevailing laws.”
The Cuban leader also called for “ensuring” the systematic training and preparation of specialists in negotiations, and “examining thoroughly” past “deficiencies and mistakes” so that they “will not be committed again.”
In addition, he emphasized that the availability of fuel – since the triumph of the Revolution – has been the “sword of Damocles that we’ve had above our neck, sometimes scraping it,” and adding that this is one of the strategic sectors where priority must be given to foreign investment.
Regarding the economic plan and budget for 2017, he warned that “financial tensions and challenges will persist” that could “resurge” under certain circumstances.
But he did not rule out a moderate 2 percent increase in the communist island’s gross domestic product after 2016 saw a 0.9 percent decline in GDP, apparently the first recession Cuba has experienced in the past 23 years.