Raul Castro Tells Cubans To Work Harder

Raul Castro i i

At a Sunday rally marking the 56th anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution, Raul Castro said rebuilding the country's agricultural system is a matter of national security. Javier Galeano/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Javier Galeano/AP
Raul Castro

At a Sunday rally marking the 56th anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution, Raul Castro said rebuilding the country's agricultural system is a matter of national security.

Javier Galeano/AP

As Cuba faces its worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union, President Raul Castro is calling on people to work harder and take advantage of Cuba's underused farmland.

At a Sunday rally marking the 56th anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution, Castro delivered an annual speech to tens of thousands of Cubans who filed into an open plaza in Holguin, 450 miles east of Havana, before dawn.

He said rebuilding the country's agricultural system is a matter of national security.

"The land is there! The Cubans are here!" Casro shouted, pounding the podium. "Let's see if we can work better or not, if we can produce or not, if we keep our word or not! It's not a question of crying, 'Motherland or death! Down with imperialism!' The U.S. embargo pummels us and yet the land is there waiting for our efforts."

Rebuilding Cuba's Agricultural System

The address serves as a Cuban version of the state of the nation. But now, Cuba is in a dire state. The communist country's trade deficit jumped 65 percent last year as the cost of imports, particularly of fuel and food, soared while exports dropped.

In an effort to break the island's dependence on food imports, Castro launched a program last year to redistribute unused, state-owned farmland to private farmers and small cooperatives. He told the crowd in Holguin that half of Cuba's arable farmland is either fallow or underutilized.

Castro says that more than 100,000 people have submitted applications for the land. About 80 percent of those applications — involving more than a million acres — have been approved.

In contrast to his brother, Fidel, who was known for speeches that could go on for hours, Raul's lasted just over 30 minutes. Fidel hasn't given a speech or been seen in public since he fell ill in 2006.

Raul — who officially became president last year — bashed the administration in Washington, D.C., only briefly, complaining about the ongoing embargo and five Cuban intelligence officers who are in U.S. jails.

The speech focused on Cuba and how Cubans can pull the country out of its economic woes.

'Everything Is Possible'

Like most of the people questioned after the speech, Jose Luis Hidalgo praised Raul Castro.

Hidalgo was selling peanuts in small white cones of paper with his wife, Daisy. He predicted that the president's effort to pump life into Cuba's stagnant farms will be a success. "When the people make the effort, anything is possible," he said.

Away from the plaza, some other Cubans said the plan is window dressing on a failing communist system. Cuba imported almost $1 billion worth of goods from the U.S. last year — much of it food — as the island's state-run farms falter.

Daisy Hidalgo says there are always some Cubans who complain. She says they don't see the positive side of things.

"We are free," she says. "If we get sick at any time, we can go to the hospital without worrying about getting assaulted on the way there. Our kids are safe at school."

Despite crushing food and transportation shortages, she says Cubans have a good life.

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