Raul Castro addresses Cuban parliament after US thaw

AFP , Friday 19 Dec 2014

Cuban President Raul Castro chaired the twice-yearly meeting of parliament Friday in a session likely focused on the communist island's historic renewal of relations with the United States.

Castro was due to give an evening address to close the session, which was also attended by the "Cuban Five," the group of intelligence agents jailed in the United States whose last three members were released in a prisoner exchange that paved the way for Wednesday's landmark rapprochement.

The men are hailed as national heroes in Havana, which says they were not spying on Washington but on Cuban exile groups determined to attack the island.

The session was scheduled to focus on economic issues, but state media reports in Cuba suggested the breakthrough with the United States would be a dominant theme.

"This ordinary session has the historic singularity of being held with the five anti-terrorist heroes back in the motherland and the announcement that Cuba and the United States have reestablished diplomatic relations," said state news agency AIN.

Foreign news media are barred from the session.

Cuba's 612-member parliament, the National Assembly of Popular Power, has no opposition representatives and meets twice a year.

Friday's session was scheduled to review progress on the annual economic plan, which fell short of its target of 2.2 percent growth this year.

Despite Castro's tentative steps toward reform since taking over from his older brother Fidel in 2006, the Cuban economy will achieve just 1.3 percent growth for 2014, the council of ministers said earlier this month.

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