Cuba's economy at a crossroads
By Marc Frank in Havana
Published: September 12 2010 22:22
When former Cuban president Fidel Castro quipped to American journalist
Jeffrey Goldberg this month that "the Cuban model doesn't even work for
us anymore", his comments reverberated around the world.
Had the staunch defender of socialism and critic of capitalism finally
thrown in the towel?
Not really. According to experts Mr Castro was exploring a theme he'd
visited before. "Had the journalist asked what he meant, Castro would
have gone back to his speech at the University of Havana in late 2005,"
Marifeli Pérez-Stable, a Cuba expert at Florida International
Mr Castro garnered similar headlines back then when he stated, "among
all the errors we may have committed, the greatest of them all was that
we believed that someone really knew something about socialism,"
referring to the Soviets.
"Whenever they said, 'that's the formula', we thought they knew. Just as
if someone is a physician," he said.
The Cuban model has changed little since and is clearly on the
84-year-old semi-retired leader's mind as the economy passes through yet
another crisis but this time with the public clamouring for change.
Raúl Castro, who took over from his brother as president two years ago,
has made "modernising" the Soviet-style economy his mantra and has
encouraged the state-run media and public to take it to task.
He has leased state lands, loosened the straight jacket on farmers
buying supplies and selling produce, promised to allow more small
business and called for a move from a system of social production and
consumption to one with more individual initiative and choice, much as
Asian communist countries did decades ago.
Julia Sweig, Latin American specialist from the Washington-based Council
on Foreign Relations, who accompanied Mr Goldberg to Cuba, told the
Financial Times she interpreted Mr Castro's remark within that context
and as supporting reform. "That the model needs changing is now part of
the milieu in Cuba, from the top to the bottom," she said.
Mr Castro last week publicly scolded Mr Goldberg and Ms Sweig for
misinterpreting him as word filtered on to Cuban streets from CNN
headlines picked up in hotels and on illegal satellite dishes that the
man, referred to as the historic leader of the revolution, wanted to
The statement was a dodge, Mr Castro said, as he launched the second
volume of his memoirs at Havana University.
He had offered up the nine words with great irony when asked if the
Cuban model was still worth exporting as the journalists tried to trick
him into admitting Cuba had ever done such a thing.
"My idea, as the whole world knows, is that the capitalist system now
doesn't work either for the United States or the world, driving it from
crisis to crisis, which are each time more serious," Mr Castro said. It
is impossible to know if he was truly furious over the posting of his
remark, which contributed to his remarkable come back on the world stage
after four years of seclusion.
The headlines and his rebuttal have focused attention on the interview,
which centres on Mr Castro's worries that UN sanctions on Iran could
lead to nuclear war.