HAVANA — Raul Castro said Sunday that his government will scale back controls on small businesses, lay off unnecessary workers and allow more self-employment — major steps in a country where the state dominates nearly every facet of the economy.
Cuba's president, however, also squashed notions of sweeping economic reform remaking life on the communist-run island.
Castro spoke before parliament, which opened its biannual session without Fidel Castro, who has made a slew of recent public appearances of late but missed another chance to share a major public stage with his younger brother.
Instead, lawmakers got Raul, who scoffed at what he said was speculation by the media that Cuba planned to dig itself out of a financial crisis by implementing major economic changes.
"With experience accumulated in more than 55 years of revolutionary struggle, it doesn't seem like we're doing too badly, nor that desperation or frustration have been our companions along the way," the president said.
Still, Castro went on to suggest that potentially landmark reforms are on the horizon, saying authorities will "update the Cuban economic model."
About 95 percent of all Cubans currently work for the government and Castro has suggested that as many as one in five state employees is redundant. He promised job cuts, calling for "the reduction of work forces that are considerably bloated in the state sector."
Castro said those left out of work would be retrained or reassigned so as not to stay unemployed, but also warned that few sectors would be immune to job cuts.
The president's announcements were similar to comments before the session began by Economy Minister Marino Murillo, who spoke to reporters about a pilot program that has turned some state barber shops over to their employees and let them set their own prices while paying rent.
Murillo said outright private ownership was out of the question, however.
"The values of socialism come first, not the market," he said.