HAVANA — Cuba's parliament met Friday in one of its twice-yearly sessions to get an update from President Raul Castro on the island's economic situation after a year of free-market reforms including the legalization of a real estate market and the expansion of private business ownership.
Parliament was gathering behind closed doors for what was expected to be a one-day plenary session. There has been speculation lawmakers might ease hated travel restrictions that keep most Cubans from ever leaving the island, but there has been no mention in official news media.
The National Assembly convenes briefly twice a year for business-packed legislative sessions. Foreign journalists have been allowed to attend opening or closing speeches in past sessions, but have no access this time around, and the sessions are not televised live.
Communist Party newspaper Granma said some lawmakers, who have already met in small groups, have heard an exhortation from Castro on the importance of fighting corruption.
Cuba is ending the first year of a drive by Castro to reform its moribund economy. The government has allowed citizens to get business licenses for nearly 200 approved jobs, and 355,000 have taken them up on the offer. The state has also legalized a real estate market for the first time in nearly half a century, begun extending bank credits to entrepreneurs and those wishing to fix up their homes, and removed restrictions on the sale of used cars.
A parallel effort to trim half a million workers from state payrolls largely foundered. The state employs about 85 percent of all workers and nearly all means of production in Cuba's Marxist, command economy.
One of the biggest reforms not yet implemented is the expected elimination of the "tarjeta blanca" — an exit visa in place since the 1960s which is required by all Cubans that seek to leave, even temporarily.
At parliament's last session, in August, Castro told lawmakers the government was committed to ease travel restrictions. He said the measures were in place because many of those who left in the years after the 1959 revolution were a threat to Fidel Castro's nascent government, including people backed by the United States who sought to bring the revolution down.
Castro said in August that most of those who leave now do so for economic reasons and are not enemies. He said removing travel restrictions would help "increase the nation's ties to the community of emigrants, whose makeup has changed radically since the early decades of the revolution."
Cuba has released few details of the effect of the reforms on its economy. The government has lowered growth forecasts for 2011 from about 3 percent to just 2.7 percent, citing poor harvests.
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