Friday, December 14, 2007

Official Unemployment Statistics Challenged

Cuban newspaper challenges government employment claim

Published on Monday, November 26, 2007

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters): An official Cuban newspaper questioned government claims of 2 percent unemployment on Sunday in the latest challenge to government rhetoric begun under acting president Raul Castro more than a year ago.

The article in the Union of Young Communists' "Rebel Youth" newspaper questioned government claims that almost all young people are working or in school.

The Union of Young Communists is the youth wing of the ruling Communist party.

"The figures never reflect reality," said the article, which concluded that those involved in ensuring youth are working or studying should "tear themselves away from illusory figures" and take another look.

Among numerous examples provided by the two-page article was a report that around 16,000 youth in eastern Santiago were unemployed in 2006, when a survey by social workers put the figure at 29,000.

Eastern Granma province claimed only 2 percent of its population as unemployed in 2006, or around 2,000 people, while another social worker survey found the number of unemployed under 45 was 37,000, the newspaper said, including housewives and 13,000 men.

Raul Castro, since temporarily taking over for his ailing brother Fidel Castro 16 months ago, has urged the official media to be more critical, blasted bureaucrats for inaccurate reporting and encouraged debate among ordinary citizens over the country's social and economic ills.

Since then retail-level pilfering and fraud, problems with the free health care and education systems, a lack of entertainment for young people and worker apathy are some subjects that have captured the attention of the usually docile official media.

Fidel Castro, 81, suffering from an undisclosed intestinal ailment, has undergone various operations since stepping aside. He regularly comments on international and domestic affairs through writings published and broadcast by all media, but has not appeared in public.

Cuba launched a series of programs to reincorporate high school drop-outs into society in 2001 and has managed to find work or study for tens of thousands of them since then, in an effort that has helped limit drug use and violence in comparison with many other countries in the region.

However, Sunday's report said some youth signed up for high school equivalency and other community education programs, for which they are paid a government stipend, and never showed up. Many others refused employment because of poor working conditions and low wages, it said.

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