Cubans anxious as state moves to fire 500,000 workers

Cuba on Monday starts a six-month process of firing half a million state workers, in a shift that has Cubans very jittery about their fate. “Job cuts for many will mean a process of readaptation that will be quite difficult,” said Cardinal Jaime Ortega, noting: “people are worried.”

The government already has unveiled guidelines for free enterprise activities in 178 fields, as part of the plan to absorb workers set to be laid off into a newly-expanded private sector.

In Cuba, the only communist country in the Americas, virtually all business is government-run.

Cuba’s inefficient economy has strained under a US trade embargo for nearly five decades. And now the hard-pressed government of President Raúl Castro is allowing an expansion of small-scale private enterprise.

The reforms will allow Cubans to become accountants, masseuses, park custodians, or even open small fruit and vegetable stores, according to the rules set out in the state-run daily Granma.

But many economists have doubts about the experiment’s ability to absorb so many former state workers.

Clara, a 39-year-old engineer who asked not to release her last name, and her husband Pedro, 42, are worried about how the shifts will hit their family.

“She makes more, so if she gets fired, we would have to live just on my salary until she finds something; I don’t know what, what she can do,” Pedro told AFP.

The government appeared to understand the anxiety level in a country with more than 50 years of public reliance on the state sector.

“It is true that some families could be hard hit during the implementation of this measure,” the official Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma allowed. “But behind them will be the humanist Revolution, evaluating and offering solutions based on real possibilities.”

On September 13 Cuba announced plans to slash one million state jobs, including half a million between October and March.

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