Castro laments loss of Soviet subsidies

September 06, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

Cuban President Fidel Castro said yesterday that the island remained strong politically but the collapse of the Soviet Union had inflicted "terrible" economic damage, cutting the is land's purchasing power by 70 percent.

Since 1989, when the communist world began to unravel, Cuba's available cash for imports has tumbled from $8.1 billion to $2.2 billion, Mr. Castro said in a speech marking the 39th anniversary of the start of the Cuban revolution.

Mr. Castro also said his government had decided to suspend completion of the island's much-delayed Juragua nuclear power plant, the island's biggest development project.

The main reason for this "temporary" and "bitter decision," he said, was unacceptable conditions offered by the Russian government to continue helping Cuba build the plant.

Mr. Castro traditionally gives his state-of-the-nation speech on July 26 -- the day in 1953 when he and a group of rebels began the war against Fulgencio Batista with an assault on the Moncada barracks. However, this year the speech was postponed for six weeks because Mr. Castro was attending the Ibero-American summit in Spain.

Portraying Cuba as a small country trying to defend itself against economic disaster while it is bombarded with hostile propaganda that used to be directed at the entire socialist camp, he said, "We're the bravest people in the world."

Mr. Castro's speech came against a backdrop of the worst economic calamity the island has experienced since the 1959 revolution and increased international pressure to open up the island's political system.

Many Cubans were hoping for any scrap of optimism in his speech after a summer characterized by blackouts, food shortages and an energy crunch that has turned Cuba into a nation of bicyclists.

Mr. Castro gave a sector-by-sector account of how much the loss of subsidized prices that the Soviets used to pay for commodities has cost Cuba:

* Sugar -- a loss of $2.47 billion.

* Nickel -- a loss of $30 million.

* Other products -- a loss of $14.4 million.

He spoke in the central plaza of Cienfuegos, a seaport on the south. The streets of the city of 142,000 were festooned with red-and-black party banners and Cuban flags.

The site of the July 26 commemoration rotates from province to province. Cienfuegos was chosen this year, authorities said, because of its outstanding agricultural and industrial production despite the island's economic crisis.

The Sept. 5 date was selected because on that day in 1957 a brief uprising helped weaken the Batista regime.

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