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Castro urges Cubans "back to the land"

On Cuba's national holiday, Raul Castro says higher production will help the economy.

Cuba's President Raul Castro waves to the crowd during an event marking the 1953 assault on the Moncada military barracks in Holguin, Cuba, on July 26, 2009. (Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

HOLGUIN, Cuba — Former Cuban President Fidel Castro was famous for his marathon speeches and unflinching stamina, delivering grand, looping disquisitions that could last for hours in the broiling sun.

But on Sunday, the national holiday marking the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, Castro’s successor and younger brother Raul was brief and direct in his state-of-the-union-style address — in keeping with his reputation as a practical man with little patience for the island’s plodding bureaucracy.

His message was also a sobering one.

The younger Castro, 78, told a crowd of several thousand in this eastern Cuban city that the country had to pull itself out of its ongoing financial straits by working harder, saving more, and going “back to the land” with his agricultural reform efforts.

Rather than shouting political slogans, Castro said, Cubans need to grow more food.

"It is not a question of yelling ‘Homeland or death! Down with imperialism! The blockade hurts us!'" he said, referring to long-standing U.S. trade sanctions against the island. "The land is there waiting for our efforts.”

With Cuba facing an acute cash shortage and falling revenues as a result of the global recession and the inefficiencies of its own state-run economy, Castro called the country’s heavy dependency on imported foodstuffs a “national security issue.”

“Are we going to work or not? Are we going to produce or not?” Castro said, slamming the podium for effect.

Castro also said Sunday that Cuba’s communist-run government would hold several high-level meetings over the next few days to discuss the country’s economic crisis and reviews its spending projections. That raises the possibility of new belt-tightening measures for ordinary Cubans, who earn about $20 a month on average but receive food rations, subsidized utilities, and other government benefits.