December 16, 2010 / 2:31 AM / 9 years ago

Cuba claims it made economic strides in 2010

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cash-strapped Cuba achieved some of its economic goals in 2010, but will have to improve its performance if it wants to emerge from its chronic economic funk, a top government official said on Wednesday.

Economic and Planning Minister Marino Murillo complained about a lack of discipline and other problems in the state-dominated economy in a speech to the Cuban parliament aired in part on national television.

Murillo said Cuba had achieved the level of economic growth planned for 2010, but he gave no figures in the portion of his presentation aired for television.

A year ago in his annual speech to the assembly, Murillo forecast Cuba’s economy would grow at 1.9 percent, up from 1.4 percent in 2009.

Production of key agricultural products fell short in 2010, Murillo said, and transportation problems had plagued the sector. The failures meant the government had to spend heavily on importation of food staples including rice and beans.

Murillo projected $1.6 billion would be spent on food imports in 2011, which would contribute to an expected budget deficit of 3.8 percent for the year.

Poor fiscal discipline and low productivity continued to hurt the Cuban economy, which is trying to recover from a severe cash crunch that forced it to freeze some bank accounts and stop paying bills starting in 2008, he said.

Murillo complained that poor performance had caused Cuba to miss out on opportunities to cash in on higher-than-expected prices for key exports nickel and sugar.

“We have to have much discipline because if not, we cannot put this economy in order. These are moments of much indiscipline,” he said.

Among the positives, Murillo said productivity had risen 4.2 percent in 2010 and salaries were up 4.4 percent.

“It’s a good sign because we’ve gone several years without resolving that problem,” he said.

Cuba’s parliament, which convenes twice a year, was meeting in the midst of a national debate on economic reforms proposed by President Raul Castro and expected to be approved at a Communist Party congress in March.

The reforms would liberalize Cuba’s Soviet-style economy by expanding the private sector and reducing the state’s role, but with the aim of preserving the socialist system put in place after a 1959 revolution.

They call for trimming more than a million jobs from the government payroll and allowing more self-employment.

Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes and Esteban Israel; Editing by Todd Eastham

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