Are Cuba’s Economic Reforms For Real?
Cuba has started making concessions to capitalism, but not out of necessity.
Rob Montz | December 9, 2014
Over the summer, the proletariat paradise dispatched a fleet of
state-trained doctors to West Africa to care for Ebola patients as part
of its long-standing “global medical diplomacy” division. Regime
officials framed the work as a natural extension of the selflessness
animating the country’s socialism. Fidel Castro himself called it “the
greatest example of solidarity a human being can offer.” And that spin
was dutifully lapped up by the American media.
But, as is so often the case in Cuba, there’s corrupt autocracy lurking
under all that romantic sloganeering. The country’s medical missionaries
aren’t working voluntarily—they have their passports confiscated and are
kept under constant surveillance. Havana gets paid directly by foreign
governments for their services and, instead of fairly compensating
doctors, simply pockets most of the money to the tune of about $8
billion every year.
So Cuba successfully sold a cash grab as medical heroism. Nice.
Despite the undeniable failures and fascist abuses of Castro’s
revolution, Cuba still retains a sacred space in the imagination of the
fashionable Left. Indeed, The Nation recently announced it had secured a
special travel license from the Treasury Department to host a week-long
“cultural exchange” cruise to Cuba early next year.
But what’s most interesting about the country these days is that it has
actually started making concessions to capitalism that would have been
denounced and suppressed as anti-revolutionary not too long ago.
These are not concessions of choice; they’re forced by extenuating
circumstances. After the implosion of the Soviet Union, Venezuela
stepped in as Cuba’s chief enabler, supplying the island with up to
100,000 barrels of heavily-subsidized oil every day—a haul that
constitutes fully 15 percent of Cuba’s GDP. But the political and
economic turmoil now wrecking Venezuela has put this patronage in
jeopardy. Reporter Ann Louise Bardach—author of Without Fidel: A Death
Foretold in Miami, Havana, and Washington—told me the spigot could get
shut off entirely as early as next year.
Cuba’s other major source of income is tourism. From an international
commerce perspective, the country is basically a decaying museum that
has successfully diversified into the underage prostitution space.
However, its tourist operations don’t generate enough money to ward off
A few years ago, President Raul Castro (who took over for his older
brother in 2008) announced a “311 point” plan for liberalizing the rules
governing private business. The average Cuban can now buy and sell a
cell phone, car, or house. And there is a limited entrepreneurial class,
mostly in the form of independent cab drivers, hairdressers, and
restaurateurs, according to my friend and Guardian contributor Michael
Paarlberg, who’s done extensive reporting in the country.
But economic liberalization hasn’t been coupled with social reform. The
Cuban government still jails dissidents and journalists. It still bans
non-state newspapers and TV stations. Eleven million people are still
forced to live in the spiritually-deadening atmosphere created by
constant state surveillance, a struggle beautifully exhibited in
filmmaker Nick Brennan’s soon-to-be-released documentary chronicling
Cuba’s most popular hard rock band.
This year, 25,000 Cubans illegally fled for America. That’s a 20-year
high. Many made the 90-mile voyage by sea in homemade vessels powered by
car engines. It’s unclear how many more tried and failed. Would it spoil
the fun of the The Nation’s “cultural exchange” cruise for attendees to
know they’re traversing waters dotted with floating corpses, the last
evidence of desperate attempts at a better life?
It’s great to see the Cuban economy getting less insane. But
those bodies are sufficient evidence to prove Raul’s reforms aren’t enough.
Source: Are Cuba’s Economic Reforms For Real? – Reason.com –