Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cuba Reforms Aimed at Productivity

Cuba Reforms Aimed at Productivity
By Bill Rodgers
26 June 2008

Cuban President Raul Castro has introduced a series of reforms since he
succeeded his ailing brother, Fidel, earlier this year. The reforms are
primarily economic, but also include lifting restrictions on the sale of
computers, cell phones and other items. As VOA's Bill Rodgers reports,
Cuba experts say the measures are significant but do not indicate any
loosening of Communist Party control of the island.

Since formally becoming president in February, Raul Castro has
introduced a series of economic reforms.

Some are aimed at increasing food production. Farmers will be able to
rent unused land from government collectives to grow crops and sell them
at market prices.

Other reforms seek to stimulate economic production. Like dropping equal
pay and salary cap rules that have been in place for nearly 50 years.

Cuba expert Philip Peters of the Lexington Institute near Washington
says the reforms are significant.

"They don't affect fundamental rights issues yet, and they haven't
really fixed the fundamental problems in the Cuban economy yet, but
these are changes and I think most Cubans are sitting up and taking
notice and saying these things are good and they hope that things go
much further." Peters said.

In April, the government allowed ordinary Cubans to buy DVD players,
computers, microwaves and other household items once restricted to
companies and foreigners.

Even though these goods cost far more than most Cubans can afford,
flower vendor Lazaro Martinez welcomed the move. "It's progress.
Humanity is moving ahead, so we should too," Martinez said.

The measures - including allowing Cubans to own cell phones - have eased
some restrictions on daily life.

But most experts agree they are not a sign that Cuba's leadership
intends to relinquish political control.

Juan Carlos Hidalgo heads the Latin American Project at the libertarian
CATO Institute in Washington.

"We can see a discussion on how to improve productivity here, how to
allow farmers get higher yields, stuff like that," he said. "But we'll
never see a discussion of whether an independent party can run in a
local election or to allow independent groups to protest freely in the
streets of Havana."

But easing the shortages and inefficiencies of daily life may be enough
to satisfy Cubans for now. Experts say Raul Castro is unlike his older
brother Fidel, who ruled Cuba with an iron hand for almost five decades.
But he and the leadership are intent on preserving socialism, says
Peters. "I think they saw a few years ago and they said it out loud:
'we're coming to the end'. And they see there are some threats to the
longevity of this socialist project that they've put in place in Cuba
and one of them is the economy," he said.

But after so many decades of state control of the economy, experts say
Raul Castro may need to make deeper changes than the reforms introduced
so far.

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