Cuban changes

Enrique Krauze, one of the deans of Mexican (and Latin American) history has a piece in the most recent New York Review of Books on the "New Cuba" and the evolution of Cuban economic policy. While the piece focuses on the failure of traditional economic policy on the island (and notes the changes in US Government policy only in passing), Krauze does talk about recent reforms on the island: 

In 2010, Raúl began a wave of reforms: he expanded nonstate employment (dubbed literally “on-your-ownism” or cuenta-propismo); encouraged the distribution and cultivation of idle state-owned land; and supported autonomous cooperatives in agriculture and services, as well as the freedom to buy and sell houses and cars. The country needed to find work for 1.8 million people who were to be dismissed, as superfluous employees, from 3,700 state enterprises (50 percent of which were losing money). Raúl sought to encourage a limited degree of private and cooperative production in goods and services. “Cuba is the only country in the world,” he noted, “where people can live without working.”


By the end of 2014 about 600,000 state employees (33 percent of the original goal) had been dismissed from their jobs. But there has not been enough creation of nonstate jobs to absorb those who have been fired. The independent workers called on-your-ownists are mostly peripheral employees (they have such professions as street performers, public bathroom attendants, or trimmers of palm trees). College graduates—doctors, teachers, or architects—can drive a cab but cannot privately practice the profession they have been trained for. This is a waste of the human capital created by the revolution itself. Mesa-Lago believes that the Cuban government could more closely emulate the Vietnamese or Chinese experience, where private property, freedom in hiring, and general economic liberties for individuals and companies are much more unrestricted.

Krauze understates the ability of the Cuban people to adapt to the economic realities on the island, which can be seen in changes big and small. On my last trip to Havana, one of the striking features was that everyone on the Malecón - young Havana's traditional gathering point on the waterfront - had a cell phone. Mobile phone usage had tripled in the three years since their purchase was first legalized in 2008. This despite fees that make cell phones cost two month's salary for many Cubans. The hurdles the government puts up cannot keep the Cuban people from expressing themselves. 

Cubans are looking for the opportunities all of us are to participate in the digital revolution of the 21st Century. As the government slowly opens up the economy, and the US slowly begins to engage in a positive manner, the Cuban people will finally get their chance.


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