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Cuba Reforms Aimed at  Productivity

Cuban President Raul Castro has introduced a series of reforms since he succeeded his ailing brother, Fidel, earlier this year. The reforms are primarily economic, but also include lifting restrictions on the sale of computers, cell phones and other items. As VOA's Bill Rodgers reports, Cuba experts say the measures are significant but do not indicate any loosening of Communist Party control of the island.

Since formally becoming president in February, Raul Castro has introduced a series of economic reforms.

Some are aimed at increasing food production. Farmers will be able to rent unused land from government collectives to grow crops and sell them at market prices.

Other reforms seek to stimulate economic production. Like dropping equal pay and salary cap rules that have been in place for nearly 50 years.

Cuba expert Philip Peters of the Lexington Institute near Washington says the reforms are significant.

"They don't affect fundamental rights issues yet, and they haven't really fixed the fundamental problems in the Cuban economy yet, but these are changes and I think most Cubans are sitting up and taking notice and saying these things are good and they hope that things go much further.” Peters said.

In April, the government allowed ordinary Cubans to buy DVD players, computers, microwaves and other household items once restricted to companies and foreigners.

Even though these goods cost far more than most Cubans can afford, flower vendor Lazaro Martinez welcomed the move. “It's progress. Humanity is moving ahead, so we should too," Martinez said.

The measures - including allowing Cubans to own cell phones - have eased some restrictions on daily life.

But most experts agree they are not a sign that Cuba's leadership intends to relinquish political control.

Juan Carlos Hidalgo heads the Latin American Project at the libertarian CATO Institute in Washington.

“We can see a discussion on how to improve productivity here, how to allow farmers get higher yields, stuff like that,” he said. “But we'll never see a discussion of whether an independent party can run in a local election or to allow independent groups to protest freely in the streets of Havana."

But easing the shortages and inefficiencies of daily life may be enough to satisfy Cubans for now. Experts say Raul Castro is unlike his older brother Fidel, who ruled Cuba with an iron hand for almost five decades. But he and the leadership are intent on preserving socialism, says Peters. "I think they saw a few years ago and they said it out loud: 'we're coming to the end'. And they see there are some threats to the longevity of this socialist project that they've put in place in Cuba and one of them is the economy," he said.

But after so many decades of state control of the economy, experts say Raul Castro may need to make deeper changes than the reforms introduced so far.