Fidel announces social security increase

Campaign News | Friday, 1 April 2005

Aged, widows and single mums to get more cash

Cuban President Fidel Castro announced increased payments for citizens on social security, marking the latest effort by the island's government to ease Cubans' economic pains.

Single mothers, senior citizens without relatives, widows and the disabled are among the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who will benefit from the increase, which takes effect May 1.

New payments will range from 150 to 300 Cuban pesos, per month. Previously, nearly half of the 1.5 million Cubans on benefits or pensions were receiving monthly payments of less than 100 pesos.

"These people have been totally forgotten (until now)," Castro said in a televised speech that lasted nearly five hours.

The average Cuban government worker earns 300 pesos a month. Salary figures can be misleading in Cuba, however, where most citizens pay no rent, education and health care are free, and the government offers heavily subsidized basic services such as utilities and transportation.

Fidel has taken to the stage to announce positive economic news for several Thursdays in a row now, including the revaluation of the nation's two currencies and the distribution of thousands of new pressure cookers and rice steamers at subsidized prices.

Beginning April 9, the exchange rate for the Cuban convertible peso will no longer be on par with the American dollar and instead will be tied to several foreign currencies, initially marking an 8 percent revaluation.

The regular Cuban peso - a second currency used on the island - was also re-valued, by 7 percent.

Castro has hinted that the island will move toward a single currency, and stated clearly that all Cuban currencies will be independent of the U.S. dollar.

The Cuban leader's optimism on the state of the economy is based primarily on improved trade relations with Venezuela and China and the recent discovery of oil deposits off the island's coast.

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