Posted on Tuesday, 10.13.09
Cuba scaling back socialism to survive in hard times
BY FRANCES ROBLES
Cuba's workplace cafeterias are closing, President Raúl Castro keeps
saying the well-off shouldn't get the same subsidies as the poor, and
now there are rumblings that one of the stalwart vestiges of the
revolution — the ration booklet — has outlived its usefulness.
As the Cuban government struggles through a deep recession, its leaders
have begun picking away at socialism in order to save it. But experts
say the latest buzz by the Cuban government is simply another desperate
fix to stem the slide of a failed economy that buckled long ago.
Even one of Havana's leading economists recently said Cuba's economy
needed to be turned upside down — “feet up.'' So taxi drivers got
private licenses, farmers now have their own plots of land and
government workers have to pack their own lunches.
“I think what they are trying to do is prepare the people for a hard
landing,'' said Cuba expert Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado of the University
of Nebraska. “The government is really saying in so many words: We've
got limited resources and can only do so much. I think they are stuck.''
Since he took office early last year, Raúl Castro has been saying that
the country's severely battered economy needs fixing. In a widely quoted
August speech, Castro said Cuba was spending more than it made.
“Nobody, no individual nor country, can indefinitely spend more than
she or he earns. Two plus two always adds up to four, never five,''
Castro said. “Within the conditions of our imperfect socialism, due to
our own shortcomings, two plus two often adds up to three.''
In the 18 months since he took office, Castro restructured the nation's
agricultural system to give idle land to farmers in the hopes that
they'll produce when the state couldn't. He also allowed taxi drivers to
have private licenses; many of them were working illegally, anyway.
Castro suggested it was time to rethink fundamentals such as deep
subsidies for everyone. He started by saving $350 million by closing
workplace cafeterias at four government ministries. Workers got a slight
boost in pay as a result.
On Friday, the Cuban state newspaper Granma published a signed editorial
from its top editor criticizing the so-called “supply card,'' which
provides Cubans with about a week and a half of deeply subsided
groceries. In an article titled “He's paternalistic, you're
paternalistic, I'm paternalistic,'' Granma editor Lázaro Barredo Medina
blasted the Cuban “gimme'' mentality.
“You don't go to the store to buy, you go so they can give you what's
yours,'' he wrote.
Barredo, a member of the Cuban National Assembly, did not say when
changes to the system could take place. But in a country where the
Communist Party and central government control the media, it was as if
Castro had written the newspaper column himself.
“Of all the subjects and problems that can reach Granma, they chose
this one, so undoubtedly they are planning to eliminate what I call the
(un)supply card,'' Central Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas said in a
telephone interview. “They are doing things like that — and this pilot
program to close the workplace cafeteria at some government ministries
— because they are trying not to spend money on food. It goes against
socialism, but it goes in favor of staying in power, which in the end is
what interests the Castro dynasty.
“This is about power.''
Earlier this year, the Cuban government announced that 2009 economic
growth projections had dropped from 2.5 percent to 1.7 percent. Last
year, when the rest of the world reeled from the global financial
meltdown, Cuba was hit with three hurricanes that cost $10 billion.
Nickel prices tanked, and even tobacco production shrank drastically as
fewer smokers around the world lit up.
Suddenly the rush was on to find ways to trim waste from Cuba's
inefficient economic model.
“Cuba goes through cycles of strict ideological code, but that code
does not function. That code leads to corruption, leads to the black
market and leads to economic collapse,'' said Baruch College professor
Ted Henken. “So they shift back and forth, and they've been doing that
for 45 or 50 years.''
For nearly 20 years, Cuba has more often shifted toward market reforms
but always stressed that the political system was not to be debated, he
“There's an expression in Cuba: You can play with the chain, but not
the monkey,'' Henken said. “That's what they are doing: pulling at the
chain, but the monkey is still attached.''
Cuba scaling back socialism to survive in hard times – Breaking News –
Mobile – MiamiHerald.com (13 October 2009)