Cubans hope economic reforms will soon allow private businesses
Ray Sanchez | Direct from Havana
7:36 AM EDT, June 10, 2008
When Eddy is not shuttling workers around in his state-owned bus, the
34-year-old driver is picking up tourists at restaurants and nightclubs
and delivering them to their hotels.
"It's cheaper for the tourists than a taxi and I make a little extra
money," said Eddy, who asked that his full name not be used because his
side job is illegal. Eddy's state salary is about $16 a month but his
side job can earn him $22 to $27 extra per night.
Dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe and others familiar with the
workings of the communist island's economy said the state needs to
loosen restrictions on Cubans working for themselves. While the new
governments demands greater productivity, low state salaries discourage
Cubans from working harder. The average state salary is about $20 a
month though Cubans receive free health care, education and other benefits.
"Over time, wealth could be created and the offering of products and
services could grow," Espinosa Chepe wrote in a recent essay. "Truly
productive work positions could be established, and that could allow the
use of an enormous excess of work force that today is not taken
advantage of by the state sector."
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Eddy, whose side earnings recently enabled him to buy a new $324 TV set
for his family, wears a dollar sign on a silver chain around his neck.
"It means struggle," he said of the dollar symbol. "It is what gets us
through life. You have to make a lot of sacrifices to have it."
Since taking over officially from his ailing brother Fidel in February,
Raul Castro has introduced changes aimed at improving the lives of
ordinary Cubans. He has lifted restrictions on consumer goods and hotel
stays. He has encouraged Cubans to talk openly about the failings of the
state-run economy, and hinted that more substantive reforms could be on
Eddy has noticed a change on the street.
"You see more people shopping," he said. "You see more people browsing
at the stores. You sense people are a little less afraid to speak their
minds. At the workplace, they're making sure people are more productive.
You see less people sitting around doing nothing."