Cuban "reforms" promote private property and social inequality
By Bill Van Auken
17 April 2008
The Cuban government was compelled to issue a statement Wednesday
denying that the series of reforms announced by President Raul Castro in
the barely two months since his assuming the reins of power from his
ailing older brother Fidel signal an abandonment of "socialism."
In recent weeks, the government has lifted restrictions on the sale of
consumer items such as cellular phones, computers and home appliances
and passed a law allowing Cubans to stay in hotels previously placed off
limits to all but foreign tourists. More fundamentally, it has unveiled
policy changes in the agricultural sector and in the wages system that
will strengthen private production and increase social inequality.
"The 'strategic' changes that the imperialist doomsayers long for will
not take place because, without any doubt, there will be more
perfectible socialism, sustained and defended by a united people under
the guidance of Fidel and Raul and the leadership of the Party," Granma,
the daily newspaper of the ruling Cuban Communist Party, affirmed.
The statement came in response to a conference held last week in Miami
in which US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez met with Cuban exile
groups, Democratic and Republican politicians, and representatives from
several eastern European governments to discuss the lessons of the
collapse of the Soviet bloc for a similar "transition" in Cuba.
The thrust of the conference's discussion was the demand that Washington
continue the nearly five-decade-old US economic blockade of the island
and subject Raul Castro to the same pariah status as his brother.
The Granma statement also used the Miami conference to brand any
internal opposition to the Castroite leadership as "mercenaries" bent on
"subversion in Cuba."
On February 24, Raul Castro, 76, replaced his 81-year-old brother to
become Cuba's first new president in 49 years. At the time, he vowed to
do away with outmoded prohibitions imposed by the government and to make
Cuba's state and economy more efficient.
Since last month, the government has begun to flesh out these proposals
with a succession of new decrees.
The first set relates to internal consumption. Previously existing bans
on the sale of computers, cell phones, DVD players and other home
appliances have been lifted. The apartheid-style law that barred Cubans
from hotels—and the country's best beaches—reserved for foreign tourists
has also been amended, guaranteeing the right of Cubans "regardless of
skin color, gender, religious beliefs or national origin" to stay in
Of course, the one rather considerable catch is that the newly available
consumer items and the hotels whose doors have now been opened to Cubans
are available only to those with the money to afford them. In a country
where the average monthly wage stands around $18—with living standards
subsidized by free health care and education as well as minimum food
rations—most of what has been unbanned still remains out of reach for
the vast majority of the island's 11 million people.
Activation of a cell phone in Cuba—until now legally available only to
foreigners, employees of foreign companies and authorized state
officials—costs $120, or more than six months' average salary. A single
night in a tourist hotel would claim another six months' wages.
Moreover, the vast majority who work for the Cuban state are paid in
Cuban pesos, while the newly available consumer items are available only
to those with the country's convertible peso, known as the CUC, which is
worth 25 times as much as the national peso. The dual-currency system
reflects an increasingly stratified society, in which those employed in
the tourist industry or foreign firms, top government officials,
families receiving foreign remittances and those making money on the
black market are being increasingly socially differentiated from the
masses of working people.
More significant are the government decrees related to property and
In agriculture, the government has announced a plan to turn over massive
amounts of state land to private peasant farmers and peasant
cooperatives for cultivation. At present, the country's 250,000 private
farms and 1,100 private cooperatives control less than one third of the
land, while accounting for close to 60 percent of nationally produced
food. At the same time, Cuba is reportedly importing more than 80
percent of its food, while more than half of the arable state lands lie
The announced changes also increase prices paid by the government for
agricultural goods, while significantly raising the quotas on the amount
of these goods private producers will be allowed to sell directly at
unregulated market prices. In some cases, this could rise to 70 percent
of their production. The government is also opening up a market in
agricultural tools and supplies, allowing producers to buy them directly
The official daily Granma, moreover, reported that the already announced
agricultural reforms may serve as a "springboard" for "other changes."
Among these changes is apparently a plan to open up the land to
exploitation by foreign capital. "We are currently studying some
business proposals in agriculture," Minister of Foreign Investment Marta
Lomas told a press conference last week. She added that in terms of
foreign investment, "nothing is off the table." She indicated that
either joint ventures or foreign capitalist investment was being
considered in "rice production" as well as "other sectors like livestock."
According to some reports, foreign capital might be brought in to run
sections of agriculture used to supply the tourist industry with fruit
and fresh produce, which is now largely imported.
Asked whether such policies, combined with the lifting of the bans on
consumer items, pointed towards Cuba imitating China's path towards
capitalist production, Lomas replied, "Cuba is Cuba, and models are
studied, but the conditions of each country are different, and the
conditions of Cuba are different."
According to a recent official report, foreign investments in Cuba
reached a record of $981 million in 2006, a 22 percent increase over the
previous year. Foreign investment in Cuba was first authorized in the
1990s, following the liquidation of the Soviet Union, which had
previously granted critical subsidies to the Cuban economy. Much of it
has flowed into the tourist industry, which has surpassed sugar as the
country's leading source of revenue.
Also last week, the government announced that a new labor law is being
enacted that will remove any ceiling on workers' earnings, while tying
them more directly to productivity.
"For the first time it is clearly and precisely stated that a salary
does not have a limit, that the roof of a salary depends on
productivity," said Airel Terrero, the leading economics commentator in
the state-run media.
The precise way in which salaries will now be determined has yet to be
spelled out. Terrero made it clear, however, that the objective of the
announced change, which represents a departure from a more egalitarian
wages system, is to extract greater amounts of labor from the Cuban workers.
"One reason for low productivity is there is little wage incentive and
this breaks productivity and stops bigger salaries," he said.
Terroro concluded that the new system would represent the realization of
the "socialist" principle of "to each according to his work, from each
according to his ability." Of course, it is nothing of the sort. The
well-known formulation of Karl Marx, contained in the 1875 Gotha
Program, is "from each according to his ability, to each according to
his needs." The wages scheme being proposed in Cuba is merely the most
brutal form of capitalist exploitation, the piecework system.
The same defense of the new proposal was made more bluntly by the leader
of the Cuban state-run trade union federation, the Central de
Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC), Raymundo Navarro, who blamed the workers for
the country's economic crisis.
"In Cuba they say that people live without working," said Navarro. "The
moment has to arrive in which people have to feel the necessity of
working." He said that the new changes were designed to "bring about an
organization of labor and salaries that stimulates results."
There is increasing speculation that as part of imposing this
"necessity," the Cuban government may be preparing to do away with the
system of food rationing that has assured minimal supplies to the
population. This was hinted at in the speech given by Raul Castro upon
assuming the presidency last February, in which he said that the system
of ration books and subsidies "in the current conditions of our economy
become irrational and unsustainable." He also declared that the
government's "strategic objective" was to introduce a system in which
"wages recover their role and the living standard of each individual is
in relation to…the importance and quantity of labor that he gives to
Finally, last Friday, the government announced a reform in housing
policy, a measure that streamlines the legal process for state employees
renting state-owned housing to gain legal title to the properties, which
can then be inherited by their heirs as well as rented. Housing
officials indicated that this was only the first step in a process of
further changes to come, raising the possibility that the Cuban
government will create conditions for a private real estate market.
Taken together, these measures represent a major turn towards
intensifying social inequality and strengthening the grip of private
ownership and foreign capital within Cuba. It is not a departure from
socialism, which never existed in Cuba. The Castro regime was
established in 1959 as the result not of a working class revolution, but
rather the coming to power of a radical nationalist guerrilla movement
that forged an alliance with the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy in the
face of the implacable opposition of Washington to even minimal reforms.
The so-called reforms being implemented under the direction of Raúl
Castro have served to intensify the divisions within the US ruling elite
over a five-decade Cuban policy that has consisted of an economic
blockade combined with CIA operations ranging from assassination
attempts to the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 and the
encouragement of anti-Castro exile terrorists.
A significant layer within the ruling elite is chafing at this policy,
which has been followed by the leaderships of both major parties and
dictated by a right-wing Cuban exile mafia that exerts disproportionate
One indication of the attention being paid to the changes being
announced in Havana came in testimony given Tuesday to a congressional
panel by the head of the US Southern Command, the military command
charged with war plans against the island.
SouthCom chief Admiral James Stavridis told lawmakers the changes in
Cuba were "interesting." "I think it is too early to tell as yet, but it
is interesting that Raul is opening some of the economic freedoms such
as cell phones, access to tourist hotels, property rights," he told thee
congressional committee. "We need to watch to see if this is a sincere
change or just cosmetic," he added.
Meanwhile, recent letters to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed
by 24 US senators and 104 members of the House of Representatives called
for a change in course.
"Our current policy of isolation and estrangement has failed," said the
letter signed by 17 Democratic and 7 Republican senators. "Cuba's
political system is stable after five decades of American efforts to
force change on the island."
The letter from the House members added, "Our policy leaves us without
influence at this critical moment." It noted that the trade restrictions
allowed other countries to "make billions of dollars in economic
investments on the island," while American corporations and agribusiness
remained frozen out.
This is the central bone of contention. Growing investment by European,
Canadian—and, increasingly, Chinese—capital is prompting fears within
American capitalist circles that they will miss out on an expanding
opportunity to reap profits off of cheap labor and resources located
just 90 miles off US shores.