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CUBA
Debating the future
Lucila Horta
9/20/2007
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Many Cubans start eyeing economic and social change.

One year after the interim government of Raúl Castro took office, possible changes to the socio-economic model are in the front seat. The government is now debating the future of Cuban socialism as its people are eying improvements to their quality of life.

In June, the government conducted an exhaustive analysis to identify the major problems, through municipal assemblies. The island’s 169 local government bodies organized open meetings in work and educational centers.

Among the issues debated were corruption and crime, above all those linked to the population’s basic service sector as well as food — above all the inability to increase agricultural production — lower consumer prices and a reduction of imports.

Between April and June of this year, the government allotted just over US$1 million that various state companies owed to small-scale, private farmers.

In August, the government increased by as much as 250 percent what the government pays these dairy and meat producers in an effort to increase production. These farmers can only sell to the state, which controls the prices when the goods are sold to the Cuban public.

Plans for increased housing construction, repairs of schools and hospitals, rehabilitation of aging water grids, new health care equipment, youth clubs, new technology, which were already underway, have faced some setbacks, but they continue.

Some advances
The government opened province-wide and municipal television stations, notes Vice President Carlos Lage, adding optimistically that the government constructed new food production factories, increased the rations of rice, grains and eggs and raised salaries and pensions.

Raúl Castro has questioned some government officials who have refused such changes during a speech on July 26, the anniversary of the attack of the Moncada Barricks in 1953, an attempt to topple dictator Fulgencio Batista.

“We are aware that salaries are clearly insufficient to satisfy all needs, what practically leaves the point of ensuring a socialist principle that everyone supports according to his abilities and receives according to his job. This caused manifestations of social indiscipline and tolerance that once entrenched becomes very difficult to eradicate,” he said.

He said that “structural changes” are needed. “Also needed is the recovery of national production and the need to incorporate new measures that eliminate imports or create new possibilities for exports.” Now a citizens’ debate is part of the mix, as the government takes stock of the criticisms, urgent needs and other proposals.

Various academics agree that for the economy to develop well there needs to be system changes, such as excessive centralization. Many also urge the government to create cooperatives for services industries and small-scale industry.

For philosopher and political analyst Isabel Monal, “the social ownership of the production means is not working. One of the difficulties of the workers is that they don’t feel that they own their means of production.”

Another analyst, Aurelio Alonso, said that “the socialist state has to maintain a regulatory function, it must be an investor, and also the owner of natural resources, the big public services, but also it must legitimize a mixed economy that does not only include foreign investment, but also national.”

Distinguishing business types
Small service sector businesses do not necessarily need to be a part of the state, for example.

Professor Pedro Campos is skeptical. He says that big government investments can fall through the cracks through bureaucracy and inefficiency. But he proposes eliminating one of the two currencies circulating: the Cuban peso and the convertible Cuban peso, which is equivalent to the US dollar. He adds that the state must better organize agriculture by handing over the unused land to “campesino groups that are interested in forming cooperatives” and “the full liberalization of the internal market for all agricultural products.”

Ramón de la Cruz Ochoa, a lawyer, says that the “double circulation of currency or the difference between the salaries and cost of living continues to be very pronounced.” He says that problems deriving from the government’s lax attitude on these administrative issues will only propagate workers’ indiscipline.

Elíades Consuegra, a boiler repairman, said: “Raúl didn’t say what’s new, what they’re doing or what they’re going to do, but it’s encouraging to know that there is a conscience that changes are needed.”


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Cuba´s two currencies creates disparities for its citizens. (Photo: Marta Sojo)
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