Lorne Gunter: Cuba needs a day at the mall
Last Updated: Aug 2, 2011 12:45 PM ET
Since taking over from his brother Fidel as head of the Cuban government
in 2008, Raul Castro has slowly nudged his socialist country towards
freer markets and more personal liberties. Monday, he and the Cuban
parliament took yet another step down that road.
Cuban parliamentarians – who are largely puppets to the inner circle of
the Cuban government and the Communist party hierarchy – approved a
300-point plan for the island country's future. Included is the
elimination of more than a million government jobs, on top of the
half-million eliminated since last fall. In a country with six million
workers, 85% of whom are state employees, this amounts to a huge
displacement of the workforce.
Cuba's rulers will also back gradually out of farming, shop-keeping,
transportation and construction, and permit small, private businesses to
fill the gap. Most of this privatization is to be achieved through
cooperatives run by former public-sector workers. Cuban legislators even
directed large companies – all of which are state owned – to start
responding to market forces, rather than just government directives.
Urban workers and students will no longer be herded up, bused to the
countryside and press-ganged into cutting sugar cane. Farmers may – just
may – be permitted to decide for themselves what crops to grow. In a
country that was once self-sufficient in foodstuffs (and should be
still), between 60% and 70% of food must now be imported. Surely
independent farmers could make no worse decisions about what to grow
than government bureaucrats are currently making.
Ordinary Cubans still may not buy homes or cars for themselves. The
government is still doing such a lousy job of managing energy production
and use, it cannot yet conceive of how to allow personal home and car
ownership with the electricity and gasoline consumption that would
entail. But that will come.
Last year, of course, Fidel Castro, admitted to The Atlantic Monthly
reporter Jeffrey Goldberg that socialism no longer worked, even in Cuba.
That was right after brother Raul legalized satellite televisions and
laptops, toasters, electric ovens and even air conditioners.
This week, when introducing the new legislation, Jose Luis Toledo,
president of the parliament's constitutional and legal affairs
committee, and a faithful Communist party member, explained "socialism
means equal rights and opportunity for all, but not egalitarianism."
Um, no, equality of opportunity is actually classic liberalism.
Socialism is "from each according to his abilities, to each according to
his needs," which is, of course, egalitarianism in its purest form. So
Cuba is not truly attempting to return the revolution to its purest
ideological roots. It is endeavoring to jettison the revolution and move
to more of a western-style mixed economy while giving the appearance of
maintaining Fidel's 53-year-old revolution.
Now what the rest of the western world needs to do is trade like crazy
Vacationing there is not enough. Indeed, Westerners vacationing in Cuba
have prolonged its dictatorship and repression. Cuban leaders have used
lucrative jobs in the tourism sector to reward faithful workers while
also siphoning off the hard currency tourists spend to prop up the
The trade I'm referring to is for produce and other crops, for ore from
Cuban mines and products produced by the legion of new entrepreneurs,
including handicrafts, leather goods and artworks.
Get as much money as possible into the hands of ordinary Cubans (and
away from autocratic officials), and the personal freedoms we want
Cubans to have will follow.
Yes, there is still repression of religion and free speech in Cuba, not
to mention scores of prisoners of conscience whose only crime has been
standing up to the brutes who run the island. These abuses are far from
trivial. They cannot be overlooked in the rush to trade Cuba to full
Still, the fastest way to defeat an oligarchy is through creation of a
prosperous middle-class. And the surest way to do that in Cuba is via trade.