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Cuban president warns local entrepreneurs

Those pushing the communist country to "move faster" risk drawing it towards failure, Raul Castro tells parliament.

Last updated: 22 Dec 2013 03:26
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Raul Castro's government has been cracking down on unlicensed private video games and movie salons [AP]

Cuban President Raul Castro has issued a stern warning to entrepreneurs pushing the boundaries of the country's economic reform.

In an address to parliament on Saturday, Castro said: "Those pressuring us to move faster are moving us towards failure."

Castro has legalised small-scale, private businesses in nearly 200 fields since 2010, but also issued tighter regulations on businesses seen as competing excessively with state enterprises. In recent months, the government has banned the resale of imported hardware and clothing and cracked down on unlicensed private video games and movie salons.

"Every step we take must be accompanied by the establishment of a sense of order," Castro said in an address to the biannual meeting of the communist legislature.

"Inadequate controls by government institutions in the face of illegal activities by private businesspeople weren't resolved in a timely fashion, creating an environment of impunity and stimulating the accelerated growth of activities that were never authorised for certain occupations," he said.

Castro also told lawmakers that Cuba wants better relations with the United States, but will never give in to demands that Cuba alter its government and economy.

He said bilateral relations could only improve if both sides learn to respect each other's differences, noting if that fails to occur, "we're ready to take another 55 years in the same situation".

Strangled economy

Cuba blames a half-century-old US embargo for strangling its economy, but Castro's government has also acknowledged that it must reform the state-run economy with a gradual opening to private enterprise.

Many Cubans have enthusiastically seized opportunities to make more money with their own businesses, but new entrepreneurs and outside experts alike say the government has sent mixed messages about its openness to private enterprise.

Castro's speech on Saturday came just two weeks after he and US President Barack Obama shook hands at a memorial for South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.

While the handshake garnered substantial international attention, a significant breakthrough in relations remains unlikely as Cuba continues to detain US government contractor Alan Gross, who was arrested four years ago for what Cuba deemed a subversive effort to promote political change.

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