Cuba is undergoing a "silent transition" from socialism to a mixed
economy but the U.S. hasn't responded with diplomatic initiatives, an
authority on Latin American affairs writes.
"A series of economic reforms are shrinking the size of the state-run
economy and making room for a greatly expanded private sector," says
Michelle Chase, professor of Latin American history at Bloomfield (N.J.)
The reforms are being instituted slowly, however. Roberto Veiga
Gonzalez, a progressive Catholic editor of a journal published by the
Archdiocese of Havana calls the gradual transition "responsible," but
adds Cubans needs the reforms now because they can't take the hardship
any longer. Cubans are enduring hard times. Many families are already
spending 80% of their income just on food.
Writing in the November 7th issue of The Nation magazine, Chase says
some in the government want economic reforms modeled after China and
Vietnam but others "want Cuba's reforms to be tailored in a way that
would give priority to small, worker-owned cooperatives" that are a kind
of "decentralized socialism."
Whatever the shape of the future, Raul Castro, who promised Cuba would
never return to capitalism, appears to be doing just that. A year ago,
Chase writes, he directed mass layoffs of government workers to trim a
bloated bureaucracy and designated new areas for entrepreneurial expansion.
Since last April, Havana has granted some 330,000 licenses and the newly
self-employed, known as cuentapropistas, are now allowed to hire Cubans
outside of their own families. "The government's stated goal," Chase
writes, "is to have nearly half the populace working in the private
sector by 2015. For a country where nearly 90 percent of the economy was
once in state hands, that will be a major about-face."
Whereas in 1990, liberal reforms in Cuba were viewed as "a necessary
evil" today, Chase explains, "the leadership actually embraces the
notion of a robust private sector." Adds Omar Everleny, a professor at
the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of
Havana, "When you read the Guidelines and Raul's speeches, you realize
he's determined to change things....he's made the decision not to turn
A key factor slowing Havana's reforms "is undoubtedly the U.S. embargo,"
Chase writes, as it has "a toxic, distorting effect on internal Cuban
politics." She explains, "Washington's openly stated goal of
destabilization and regime change creates a sense of permanent crisis, a
siege mentality, in the leadership. This has long had the effect of
limiting internal debate and bolstering hardliners who view any critique
as a dangerous prelude to subversion."
What's more, by blocking American tourism, for example, "the U.S.
government is in effect slowing the growth of Cuba's private sector"
where the government has opened the doors for Cuban businesses to operate.
Reviewing the past few years, Chase writes, it is apparent "a transition
of sorts has already happened in Cuba. Raul Castro...and his cohort now
openly embrace market reforms and have implemented measures to foster a
large private sector....In addition, with the Catholic church serving as
intermediary, the government recently released most political
prisoners....If there has ever been a time for the US government to
acknowledge internal reforms and reciprocate with increased diplomacy,
that time is now."
Americans, however, may have a long wait before Washington turns to
diplomacy. The U.S. attitude has long been "do it our way (economically)
or else." Countries, including Cuba, whose rulers tried non-capitalist
economic approaches, have been attacked militarily by the U.S. or its
surrogates and/or destabilized by the Central Intelligence Agency. At
times, the leaders of those countries were assassinated by the CIA.
America's Founders established a policy of realism in matters of
diplomacy. They held governments in power were governments the U.S.
would recognize because we needed to treat with them, whether we liked
them or not. Modern presidents trampled this common-sense approach for
years by not recognizing Soviet Russia and Communist China. And they are
still withholding it from Cuba. The authors of the Constitution might
well be appalled if they knew the CIA backed the Bay of Pigs invasion in
1961, tried to poison the Cuban sugar crop and wreak other calamities on
the country, and made at least eight attempts on the life of Fidel Castro.
With Fidel out of power and his more rational brother in charge, now is
the time for the U.S. to open talks leading to improved U.S. relations
with Cuba, as well as full liberties and economic opportunities for the
Cuban people. #
(Sherwood Ross, who formerly reported for major dailies and wire
services, is director of the Anti-War News Service .)