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Page last updated at 02:38 GMT, Sunday, 27 July 2008 03:38 UK

Cuban leader warns of austerity

Raul Castro speaks at Moncada barracks, 26 July 2008
Raul Castro warned of hard economic times ahead

Cuban President Raul Castro has warned that Cubans must be prepared for the consequences of the current global economic crisis.

He said that developing countries had already felt the effects of rising fuel and food prices.

The speech was part of the celebrations marking the 55th anniversary of the beginning of the communist revolution.

President Castro had been expected to announce new economic policies, but in the event did not do so.

He has already introduced significant changes in the country since succeeding his ailing brother, Fidel, in February.

The president recently announced a move to allow some private farming and relaxed limits on mobile phones and computers.

'Excessive prohibitions'

Speaking for 48 minutes, President Castro warned the crowds that the economic austerity suffered in recent years would not be helped by increases in world food prices.

"The revolution has done and will continue to do whatever is possible to continue to advance and reduce to the bare minimum the inevitable consequences of international crises to our people," he said.

"But we must explain to our people the difficulties and thus prepare them to deal with them."

Raul Castro also had a message for Cuba's ideological enemy, the United States.

"We shall continue paying special attention to defence, regardless of the results of the next presidential elections in the United States," said the president.

Since taking over from his elder brother, Raul Castro has made available more unused state land to private farmers, eased restrictions on mobile phones for ordinary citizens and allowed some workers to seek legal titles for their homes.

RAUL CASTRO'S REFORMS 2008
February - signs two human rights agreements at the UN
March - lifts ban on Cubans staying in tourist hotels
May - lifts ban on private ownership of mobile phones
June - announces plans to abandon salary equality
July - decrees state-controlled farm land can be leased to private farmers and co-operatives

He has also signed UN human rights accords and announced that workers can earn productivity bonuses, doing away with the egalitarian concept that everyone must earn the same.

Mr Castro delivered his speech to a crowd of some 10,000 people at the parade grounds of Santiago's historic Moncada army barracks, where he and his brother led a fruitless rebel assault exactly 55 years ago.

Both men were jailed for the attack, but did of course eventually go on to seize power from the then Cuban leader, Fulgencio Batista, on 1 January 1959.

"When we attacked the Moncada, none of us dreamed of being here today," the president told the crowd.

The Rebellion Day celebrations two years ago were the last public event at which Fidel Castro was seen before he underwent emergency intestinal surgery. He has since appeared only in official videos and photographs.

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