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Raul Castro issues stern warning to Cuba's entrepreneurs

HAVANA--President Raul Castro issued a stern warning to entrepreneurs pushing the boundaries of Cuba's economic reform, telling parliament on Saturday that “those pressuring us to move faster are moving us toward failure.”

Castro has legalized small-scale, private businesses in nearly 200 fields since 2010, but has issued tighter regulations on businesses seen as going too far or competing excessively with state enterprises. In recent months, the government has banned the resale of imported hardware and clothing and cracked down on unlicensed private videogame and movie salons.

Castro threw his full weight behind such measures in an address to the biannual meeting of the communist legislature, saying “every step we take must be accompanied by the establishment of a sense of order.”

“Inadequate controls by government institutions in the face of illegal activities by private businesspeople weren't resolved in a timely fashion, creating an environment of impunity and stimulating the accelerated growth of activities that were never authorized for certain occupations,” Castro said.

He told lawmakers that Cuba wants better relations with the U.S. but will never give in to demands for changes to Cuba's government and economy, saying “we don't demand that the U.S. change its political or social system and we don't accept negotiations over ours.”

“If we really want to move our bilateral relations forward, we'll have to learn to respect our differences,” Castro said. “If not, we're ready to take another 55 years in the same situation.”

Cuba blames a half-century-old U.S. embargo for strangling its economy but Castro's government has also acknowledged that it must reform the state-run economy with a gradual opening to private enterprise. Many Cubans have enthusiastically seized opportunities to make more money with their own businesses, but new entrepreneurs and outside experts alike complain that the government has been sending mixed messages about its openness to private enterprise.

The conflicting signals were apparent in Cuba's handling of the dozens of private home cinemas and video game salons that sprung up around the country this year, drawing crowds of young people willing to spend a few dollars for access to the latest home entertainment technology imported, purportedly for private use, by Cubans returning from the U.S., Canada or other countries.

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