Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Cuba's Changing Government Examines Asia Model

by Nick Miroff

August 21, 2012

Cuba is one of the world's last remaining communist states. Cuba's

allies in China and Vietnam also maintain firm one-party rule, but have

prospered by introducing market principles to their economic models.

With Cuban President Raul Castro easing government controls on property

rights and private enterprise, many are wondering if the struggling

island is looking to Asia for a way forward.

The intersection of 23rd Street and 12th Avenue in Havana's Vedado

District is a Cuban landmark in Cold War history. It was here during the

Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 that Fidel Castro dropped his

democratic assurances and declared at the peak of a fiery speech that

Cuba "had carried out a socialist revolution right under the United

States' nose." It was the first time he'd openly used the S word to

describe his leftward plans for the island.

What Cubans ended up with was a tropical version of Soviet economics,

defined by centralized planning and the elimination of most private

property. Even Cuba's ice cream vendors had their Popsicle carts seized

by the state in the name of ending inequality.

That the same Havana intersection is changing. The dreary state-run

businesses that were long ago nationalized now compete with private

restaurants, snack bars and newly licensed entrepreneurs like Yoel

Gonzalez, 31, who sells Puma and Adidas sneakers where Castro once

rallied the crowds of Cuban militiamen.

"You have to work a little harder when you have your own business, but

you get to see the benefits," Gonzalez says. "When you work for the

state, your salary is guaranteed, but it's not enough to survive on."

To advocates for change, Gonzalez is precisely what's wrong with Cuba's

current model. Gonzalez was trained as a computer programmer but quit

his government job to make ends meet by selling shoes.

Starting a software company or working as a private computer engineer

isn't among the 181 occupations that have been permitted so far by Cuban

authorities. Licenses are available for stone cutters, horse cart

drivers and birthday clowns, but not architects, scientists or other

educated professionals.

And unless that changes, the mentality of Cuba's Communist Party will

remain decades behind China and Vietnam, says University of Havana

economist Julio Diaz Vazquez.

"Cuba's model continues to be for the State to own and distribute

everything. That has nothing to do with Marx. It's not possible to have

socialism if you don't have a productive economy to sustain it," he says.

On the scale of liberalism, Cuba is still closer to North Korea than

China, a country that looks relatively open to Diaz Vazquez. Chinese

citizens have access to the Internet, he notes, and can publicly

criticize corruption or pollution.

But economic changes are bringing subtle political shifts, according to

Rafael Hernandez, editor of the Cuban journal Temas. He says a new model

for Cuba is still taking shape, but it would be foolish for the island

to try copying China or Vietnam.

"These are Asian societies with their own cultural traditions and

history. So I don't think that economic policy is something you can

develop like a vaccine, this is not about a lab test that you can apply

elsewhere. The social, historic and cultural circumstances in which you

are going to develop an economic and political model is fundamental,"

Hernandez says.

Raul Castro, 81, made a rare trip abroad to visit China and Vietnam in

July, promising closer ties. But while those countries churn out

iPhones, textiles, cars and nearly anything else the world economy

wants, Cuba still struggles to make its own laundry detergent and grow

enough food.

Opponents of the 50-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba point out

that Asia's communists have been transformed by business ties to the

U.S. market. But the embargo's backers insist the Cuban model won't

really change until the Castros are gone.

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