Castro's dreams of socialist Cuba becoming a nightmare
With one million people expected to lose government jobs, leaders are
encouraging Cubans to pursue self-employment
By Jonathan Manthorpe, Vancouver Sun September 15, 2010
Brothers Fidel and Raul Castro have been forced to acknowledge that
their 50-year dream of a socialist Cuba has become a nightmare, but
don't expect them to totally abandon the fantasy.
Monday's announcement by the Cuban Workers Federation, the island's only
labour union, that up to one million people will lose government jobs
and be encouraged to find selfemployment is undoubtedly the most
significant liberation of the economy since Fidel Castro took power in 1959.
But if the highly tentative steps taken in the last few years toward
allowing private enterprise are a sound indication, Cuba is probably
looking at the toleration of selfemployment rather than its encouragement.
Since Raul Castro took over the leadership from his ailing brother Fidel
in 2008, he has been musing about the problems arising from the state
employing 85 per cent of the country's 5.5 million working people.
Everyone gets the equivalent of $20 a month salary as well as food
coupons, and free education and health care.
But many of the government jobs are not productive. The double whammy of
the ending of foreign subsidies with the collapse of the Soviet Union
and the 2009 global recession have left the Castros looking at an
economy on the verge of a precipice.
Last month Raul told the National Assembly, "we have to erase forever
the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where one can live
Since he took control Raul has promoted the leasing of tens of thousands
of hectares of state-owned farmland to private farmers, loosened
restrictions on farmers buying and selling produce, and allowed more
licences to be issued for small cooperative businesses, such as
barbershops and taxi operations.
But neither Raul nor Fidel appear to have experienced a Pauline
conversion to joys of capitalism. Indeed, both remain primarily
concerned with making Cuba's centralized, Sovietstyle economy more
efficient and functional.
Fidel was quick to try to set the record straight after he was recently
quoted in the United States magazine The Atlantic as saying in an
interview, "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us any more."
This, said Fidel in a speech last week, was the reverse, of what he meant.
"As everybody knows, my idea is that the capitalist system no longer
serves the United States nor the world, given that it goes from crisis
to crisis, crises that are constantly graver, global and repetitive."
The Castro brothers' embedded mistrust of capitalism and
entrepreneurship is reflected in Cuba's experience with the private
sector since self-employment was first allowed in the early 1990s.
Of the 590,000 or so Cubans now working in the private sector, most are
farmers while another 140,000 are classified as self-employed.
In the non-farming sectors, many have started small businesses catering
to tourists such as working as guides, facilitators, or operating the
famous home restaurants known as paladares.
But the very success of the paladares has exposed the government's
continuing ideological mistrust of these enterprises.
Many have been forced to close because of high taxes, restrictions on
the number of employees, bans on advertising and scores of other
government-inspired irritants that make operating a business hardly
worth the bother.
In this week's announcement, which foresees about 500,000 dropped from
the government payroll by next March and a similar number in the
following months and years, the national trade union says some of the
barriers and hurdles placed in the way of self-employment and private
businesses will be removed.
These, said the union, will include such things as bans on obtaining
bank credit, prohibition of hiring workers from outside the family and
geographic limitations on where self-employment is and isn't allowed.
And there's a list of 124 authorized jobs for which people who want to
work for themselves or start a cooperative will be able to get licences.
They include raising rabbits, toy repairman and carpenter.
An indication of the ideological straitjacket still in place is that
self-employed carpenters will be allowed to repair and make furniture to
order, but not design and make artifacts for speculative sales.
That might allow someone to create a successful business, employ many
people and even get rich. And that would never do.