Cuba seeks development alternatives
By Leonardo Padura Fuentes
The fact is that the form of governance has not changed in the country
and will not in the short term.
One of the most thankless and complicated exercises required of Cuba
specialists is having to divine what lies behind — or beneath —
developments in the country.
The most recent developments in Cuba — let's say, since the announcement
of the liberation of 52 prisoners, counterrevolutionaries to one side,
conscientious resisters to the other — has set off a veritable avalanche
of speculation intensified by unexpected factors like the reappearance
of Fidel Castro after a four-year absence due to illness; the decision
by president Raul Castro to not make a major speech for the July 26
anniversary, considered until now the most important public event of the
year in Cuba; or the presidential announcement during the last meeting
of the legislature of a broadening of the forms of freelance work
permitted as a way to ease the economic troubles and absorb a portion of
state workers that need to be 'rationalised' (more than a million, or a
staggering 20 per cent of the country's labour force).
Struggle for power
The questions most frequently asked by reporters and specialists — and
put to anyone that might have an interesting hunch — relate to the
possibility that at the upper reaches of Cuban politics there is a
struggle for power or at least for a different economic orientation
(including tensions between Raul and Fidel); to the new economic model
that Cuba might be inching towards; and to the possibility that economic
change might trigger political change.
The most prominent element of Cuban reality is without a doubt the
critical economic and financial situation, caused not only by the US
embargo/blockade and the global crisis but also, and especially, by the
exhaustion or unsuitability of its current economic and trade
structures, which will have to be changed sooner or later.
Thus the decision of the government to broaden the possibilities for
private enterprise (though it is not yet known in which sectors or with
what conditions) is doubtless a response to the current calls for
change. President Raul Castro himself admitted in his last pronouncement
that it was no longer possible to maintain the image (or reality) of
Cuba as a country where one could live without working and yet, as the
president also recognised, not be able to live on what one makes from
working (even for the most highly-trained professionals). This
demonstrates the existence of serious deformations in the economic
system of a country which granted itself the luxury of maintaining full
employment at the cost of inefficiency, unproductivity, the creation of
unnecessary jobs, and, as a consequence, the payment of salaries that
are more virtual than real. This saps workers' motivation and forces
many to support themselves in the most twisted ways, which, in general,
derive from and lead to corruption, stealing from the government, or the
It is also clear that Cuban social policy, while retaining certain
standards of social security, has ceased its 'paternalism' (a creation
of the state) in response not to political will but rather to economic
necessity. The effects of this change are felt in the educational sector
(cuts in scholarships and dropping university enrolment, for example) in
pensions (the retirement age has been raised by five years), and in the
taxes will be imposed on land that is not cultivated or barely so.
Finally, though equally important, there is the fact that the form of
governance has not changed in Cuba and will not in the short term. The
government has warned that the single-party political system and
socialist economic planning will not be effected by the changes that are
being made or by the introduction of specific measures, like the
liberation of the 52 prisoners.
What is undeniable in the mix of predictions and the lack of information
is that the Cuban government is seeking economic alternatives that could
shore up its political position. There is no other way to interpret the
encouragement of freelance work (reestablished and at the same time
denigrated in the 1990s), or plans for opening up tourism, including not
only the 16 new golf courses and the construction of marinas for yachts
but also the sale of homes to foreigners (another practice from the 90s
that had virtually disappeared). And, to not seem out of place, we might
also ask the oracles, "What foreigners will the houses be sold to?"
"Might some surprise be brewing in US-Cuban relations?"