The reforms have been directed mostly in the right direction, but in a superficial way and excessively slowly. In addition to trying to alleviate an economic situation caused by years of volunteerism and contempt for the most basic economic laws, the reforms try to formalize the assignment of minimum space to entrepreneurs who were already earning from the illegal activities, perhaps so that they don’t feel incentives to leave the country or join the opposition.
The repression has been characterized by increased brief and arbitrary arrests and systematic maintenance of the acts of repudiation in which a portion of the population is driven by pressures and incentives to attack and insult to other citizens who peacefully express their disagreement with government policy. This undoubtedly constitutes incitement to commit acts that qualify as hate crimes. One of the objectives of repression is to isolate and terrorize malcontents who have not yet dared to cross the fuzzy line between loyalty and opposition.
A Reform to Delay “The Change” and Encourage Entrepreneurs
The list of the substantive reforms implemented by President Raul Castro since he formally took over the country in early 2008 is well-known:
Access to cell phone, permission to stay in hotels, buying and selling of cars and houses, expanding the list of jobs allowed to the self-employed, expanding the leasing of land under the concept of usufruct, the abolition of the exit permit and the concept of Final Exit, opening the Nauta network for connecting to the Internet, the so-called non-agricultural cooperatives, the ability to hire labor, the tacit acceptance of professionalism in sports, and other measures of greater or lesser importance. All of this could raise a wave of optimism to make people believe that the changes could ultimately anticipate The Change.
The limit that hampers this platform of changes is that it doesn’t touch the essentials. By not explicitly accepting private ownership of the means of production, nor merchant activity in the broadest sense, it impedes the emergence of small and medium businesses that would generate the appearance of a middle class country. It lacks a political commitment to make it clear that prosperity will not be criminalized. The decision not to allow the concentration of ownership, clearly raised in the Guidelines of the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, leaves a very narrow framework and becomes a straightjacket for the development of the nation to emerge from the exhausted paths of socialism.
The country’s economy remains a stronghold of State decisions, especially foreign trade, industry and banking. The debts between companies, inflated payrolls, lack of productivity, lack of diversity, the absence of initiative, are still hallmarks of what is known bureaucratically as the “State sector.”
Moreover, the dual currency, the lack of a living wage, excessive taxation, the unaffordable prices of staples, and widespread corruption create an atmosphere of mistrust and insecurity that drives away potential foreign investors.
As long as there is no sound legal basis that enshrines the right to property and provides guarantees to domestic entrepreneurs, the reforms will seen be with suspicion and mistrust, as mere instruments to gain time and to keep the ruling elite in power. However, these reforms have no significant effect on the life choices of the population. The fact that around 400,000 Cubans are engaged in self-employment and no longer depend on the State, opens sociological perspectives that were unthinkable just a decade ago. Continue reading