The end of Communism? Cuba sweeps away egalitarian wages
Raul Castro's reforms continue with abolition of rule that labourers and
surgeons earn the same
By Leonard Doyle in Washington
Friday, 13 June 2008
Raul Castro rejected party doctrine to boost the economy, which is
suffering from the collapse of its sugar cane industry
Cuba took another leap away from Fidel Castro's creaky egalitarian model
yesterday when it swept away the wage restraints that have kept surgeons
and taxi drivers on much the same salaries for the past 50 years.
The latest and most dramatic liberalisation by Raul Castro appears to be
aimed at bringing to communist Cuba the Chinese-style economic reforms
he admires so much. But the move falls far short of the political
reforms that Cubans, both inside and out of the country, long for.
The new wage policy is the latest change by President Castro, who
officially took over on 24 February but has been running the country
since July 2006 when his older brother, Fidel, 81, suffered serious
Since February, Mr Castro, 77, has allowed Cubans to buy personal
computers and mobile phones, rent cars and even stay overnight in hotels
previously only accessible to foreigners, provided they can afford it.
He has shaken up the economy to pay farmers better and ease the impact
of the world food crisis. He has commuted death sentences and released a
handful of political prisoners. But his secret police have also broken
up meetings of dissidents.
The decision to scrap one of the fundamental pillars of socialism, in
place for the past 50 years, was revealed in an eye-popping item in the
Communist Party newspaper, Granma, yesterday. In its deadpan style,
Granma stated that "the socialist principle of distribution will be
achieved wherein everyone earns in accordance with his contribution, in
other words, pay in accordance with quality and quantity".
In remarks that will be astonishing to generations who have grown up on
a diet of hardline Communist Party doctrine, Carlos Mateu, the deputy
Labour minister, said in the article: "This [new] salary system should
be seen as a tool to help obtain better results in output and services.
"Generally, there has been a tendency for people to earn the same, and
that egalitarianism is not helpful. "That is something that we have to
fix … because if it is harmful to pay workers less than they deserve,
it also is harmful to pay them what they have not earned."
The decision may reflect a need to keep a lid on civil unrest in the
country. Food-price inflation has hit Cuba more than most, because so
much of what the country consumes is imported. The nation's sugar
industry is bankrupt and virtually all the chickens consumed in Cuba are
imported from the United States But by sweeping away wage restraints,
the authorities may now have to contend with social tensions caused by
inequalities. The iron grip of the Communist Party over so many aspects
of people's lives remains in place, as do the privileges accorded to the
party elite, a source of great resentment in the country. The reforms
could be risky, as the race for private wealth could unleash forces
which prove too much for the Communist Party to contain.
The pace of change has been fast and furious since Mr Castro took over
from his brother this year. Last month the authorities even said they
were ending restrictions on sex-change operations. But while the changes
have been popular, they are also seen as cosmetic, because Cubans are
paid so badly.
The measure is part of the government's policy to get the moribund
economy on the move again. The idea is to give people earning a typical
salary of just $17 (£8.75) a month an incentive to work hard and make
money. Cuban salaries are too low for families to survive on and are
supplemented by a crude system of rationing.
Every Cuban family gets a single bar of soap a month, a portion of rice
and "ground beef" that is more than 50 per cent soy. The ration system
has given the Communist Party tight control over families, but it is
widely abused and open to corruption.