Sunday, October 7, 2007

Foreign Minister Discusses Reform with Students

Cuban official touts flexibility over dogmatism

Havana, Oct 4 (EFE).- Cuba's foreign minister told students at the
University of Havana that the island's communist government must put
flexibility ahead of dogma in adapting to new realities even if Washington
ends its economic embargo against the Castro regime.

Felipe Perez Roque made the comment Wednesday night during an exchange where
several students mentioned the serious problems in the economy and asked
whether Cuba could resolve its unfinished business if the 45-year-old
embargo were lifted.

After insisting that the U.S. policy has cost the island's economy nearly
$90 billion, the foreign minister said that Cuba cannot blame the embargo
for the "problems, mistakes and setbacks" cited in a July speech by acting
President Raul Castro, who stepped in when older brother Fidel fell ill 14
months ago.

Damian Dikinson, a freshman studying engineering, asked the foreign minister
Wednesday night: "What would happen if they ended the embargo and we
continue with some of the very deficient management methods we have, if we
continue with the waste, with the land we have without putting it into
production as Raul said?"

Perez Roque responded that in that case Cuba will have to adapt to the new
reality. "We cannot be dogmatic. We have to be flexible," though without
compromising on the "principle" of defending socialism.

Some of Cuba's woes, he said, are due to a "peculiar situation today, but
that doesn't mean that it has to continue being like this. That is the
result of a war economy, of a beseiged country, which lacks resources.
The lack of resources leads to centralization regarding their use."

To another question by student Naibi Hernandez regarding how the hotel
industry could face a possible avalanche of U.S. tourists if Washington's
travel restrictions to Cuba were lifted, Perez Roque acknowledged that the
island is not fully prepared to confront that circumstance.

He said that U.S. tourism "among other benefits, will come to resolve the
problem of seasonality" with visiting Canadians and Europeans, who travel to
the island mainly during the winter months.

"They (the Americans) will come at the time we have the emptiest hotels,"
and he added that the first million of those hypothetical future tourists
would bring as much as $3 billion in revenues to Cuba.

During the dialogue, a journalism student who identified herself only as
Elizabeth lamented the fact that Cuban media - which are entirely under
state control - do not deal with certain conflicts and issues considered
taboo but which concern society.

"We're letting you know that those zones of silence are being filled with
other information created perhaps by people we don't like and who almost
always, unfortunately, are the enemy," she said.

The foreign minister responded that the leadership of the Communist Party
"has devised a very clear policy of a commitment to the truth and is not due
to other interests, because the press is the daughter of the revolution that
democratized the access to the media."

He acknowledged that the press "has to reflect reality," but went on to say
that it also "has to speak about the battle, the resistance and how we can
break and resist the embargo."

Perez Roque, who at 42 is by far the youngest member of Cuba's ruling elite,
has been mentioned as a possible future leader of the island. EFE rmo/bp

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