Cubans to learn specifics of economic changes

Cubans will soon get their first look at the details of highly anticipated economic changes that were approved at last month's Communist Party Congress, official news media said Saturday.

An announcement in party newspaper Granma said copies of the document will be available for 1 peso ($0.04) starting Monday in newsstands and post offices. A 48-page explanation of the guidelines and what changes have been made from last year's draft proposal will also go on sale, for 2 pesos ($0.08).

Billed by President Raul Castro as a way to fix Cuba's struggling economy, the changes amount to reforms that would apparently reduce the size of government while making it easier for people to buy and sell private property, run small businesses and get credit to finance those operations. Castro has insisted that the changes are an update to the island's socialist system, not an embrace of free-market principles.

The Communist Party unanimously gave its seal of approval to the new guidelines April 18 at a historic summit, but there had been no word on what changes were made to the original proposal or when the final version would be released.

While Cubans have generally expressed optimism about the changes, economists said it was impossible to know their true impact until the specific ground rules were known.

Many islanders are eager for a relaxation of the rules on home and car sales, which have been mostly frozen since soon after the 1959 revolution. Others are nervous about proposals for mass layoffs of government workers and the gradual phasing out of the monthly ration book, which provides them with a basic, highly subsidized food basket.

The Communist Party does not have lawmaking authority, but parliament is expected to take up the guidelines and enact them into law.