Posted on Thu, Oct. 26, 2006
Cuba examining socialism for flaws
The Cuban government has launched a study with a surprising focus: What
about socialism causes people to steal?
BY FRANCES ROBLES
In the wake of an unusual investigation by Cuban state journalists into
public employees who regularly cheat customers, Havana has announced an
even more surprising response: a study of what’s wrong with the entire
But the study won’t be all. New rules aimed at cracking down on
widespread fraud at state businesses will take effect Jan. 2, the
Communist Party newspaper Granma reported Wednesday.
Together, the two announcements appear to hint at what some experts say
could be a significant change in policy in the wake of Fidel Castro’s
surrender of power — an acknowledgement that perhaps the root cause of
Cuba’s workplace fraud is a flaw with its socialist system.
”This is different. They are not saying it’s greed” that causes
corruption, said Cuba expert Philip Peters, of the Lexington Institute,
a Virginia think tank. “They are saying it’s not just a few bad apples.
It’s the system. They are putting the public on notice that they are
looking for a policy solution.”
Raúl Castro, who assumed his brother’s powers after Fidel Castro
announced July 31 that he had undergone emergency intestinal surgery,
has been portrayed by some Cuba-watchers as willing to reform the
island’s communist system.
This week’s announcements came on the heels of a three-part series in
the Communist youth newspaper, Juventud Rebelde. In a remarkably unusual
piece of journalism for Cuba’s state-controlled media, reporters went
undercover to restaurants, taxis and shoe repair shops to show how
customers were routinely cheated. Beer mugs were not filled to the top,
sandwiches were light on ham, taxi fares were too high and repair shops
charged more than state-set prices.
While the Oct. 1 article did not stress the meager wages that often
drive Cubans to pilfer from their state employers, it quoted workers as
saying it was unfair to judge them when the government failed to provide
the supplies needed to conduct business. The shoe repairman, for
example, was buying his own thread and adjusting prices to make up for
On Tuesday, the newspaper followed up with a story reporting that a
group of Cuban experts would study the issue of ”socialist property”
— the communist system under which the government owns and operates
virtually all enterprises on the island.
The study will be led by specialists from the Cuban Philosophy Institute
”as a scientific, multidiscipline investigation that cannot be economic
alone,” the newspaper added. It did not say when the study would be
”I think we are probably at the verge of a new policy shift,” said St.
Thomas University economics professor Maria Dolores Espinosa. “Maybe
they are looking at mixing some amount of market and moral incentives.
Right now the only reason to work in Cuba is to steal. Otherwise, people
would not be working.”
Florida International University professor Jorge Salazar-Carrillo
cautioned, however, that the Cuban government periodically criticizes
itself with great fanfare — and then does little to address the problem.
”It’s the same old thing: `We have to stop this somehow,” ‘
Salazar-Carrillo said. “They try to control it, and it gets worse and
worse and worse.”
He said Cuba’s black market economy is so strong that it would take
impossibly drastic measures to stop it.
”I don’t think this is going to fly at all,” he said. “It’s not going
But the Cuban government seems determined to crack down on the internal
theft and other labor inefficiencies that have plagued state enterprises
Wednesday’s Communist Party newspaper Granma said rules will take effect
Jan. 2 “intended to strengthen the established order, educate the
workers and deal with indiscipline and illegalities in the performance
Among the rules: No wasting time on the job. Workers must report theft,
damages and losses and should work their whole shift. No pornography or
games can be downloaded on work computers.
”There must be a scientific method to organize society economically and
politically so it may function better,” the paper quoted Ernesto
Molina, consulting professor of the Department of Economic Disciplines
and Management Techniques at the Superior Institute of International
Relations, as saying. “What we must not do is to allow the market to
transform the economic structure of this country all by itself.”
Miami Herald translator Renato Pérez contributed to this report.