Thursday, August 13, 2009

Raul Castro wants economic reform, but is it too late?

Raul Castro

It's all about the economy. Raul Castro knows that. But can he fix what ails Cuba? And will people rally around him?
The Cuban president's goal is clear: With the help of the Cuban people, he said in an Aug. 1 speech,
...we should define the socialist society that we want to build and can build under the present and future conditions of Cuba, and the economic model that will rule the life of the nation...
Castro didn't blame the U.S. government for all his country's economic ills. He said Cubans need to evolve. They need to debate changes to their economic model.

Castro didn't say socialism would disappear.
I was not elected President to return capitalism to Cuba or to surrender the Revolution. I was elected to defend, preserve and continue to perfect socialism, not to destroy it.
Indeed, he said, the Cuban government's "socio-political regime" should remain intact. And that tells me he wants to preserve such ideals as universal health care and free education. But he said Cubans also need to consider what the government can afford. And so social spending must fit budget realities.

Castro readily admits the economy should be more productive. He complains that Cuba has to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to import food. And he says he has taken steps to boost agriculture.

Still, he said, Cuba has trouble finding people willing to take low-paying jobs. He asked,
...Who will be tilling the land? Who will work in factories and workshops? And who will create the material riches required by our people?
Sometimes one gets the impression that we are eating into socialism before we even build it and that we expect to spend as if we had already built communism.
To be sure, Castro faces daunting challenges as he tries to perfect socialism. Key questions include:
* Is it too late to fix the economy? How many workers have already abandoned state-run enterprises to take their chances in the informal economy?
* How will nearly bankrupt state-run companies come up with wages that will attract young workers?
* How can state-run firms ensure worker loyalty? How can the authorities prevent employees from pilfering company goods?
* How much of Cuba's economic troubles are structural? Is the central government capable of fixing the economy?
The burden of finding some answers falls to Castro, who will ultimately be held accountable no matter how many mistakes were made before him.

For now, though, the Cuban president disassociates himself from past economic policies. He said:
I am not an economist nor has it been my work under the Revolution to manage the details of economic development...
Along the Malecon's Raul Castro, military and domestic affairs page


David Ronfeldt said...

a link from tim steven's blog routed me over here. and now that i'm here, i'll note that i liked this post. good points. i don't work on cuba matters anymore, but you might (or might not) be interested in an analysis i posted on may 7 at my if raul castro were to proceed with reforms, finessing distinctions about capitalism vs. the market system may prove part of the game.

Tracey Eaton said...

I read your May 7 post and what you say makes sense. Thanks for sharing it with me.
By the way, I think we may have spoken before, when I was Mexico bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News. I've read some of your studies and reports from your RAND days. I've written a lot about Mexico, including the Zapatista uprising.
Thanks again for your comments.

David Ronfeldt said...

aha. that's good to hear. i'd forgotten we'd met.

nice slide show there in the margin on your blog.

thanks for the reply. onward.

Tracey Eaton said...

Thanks! I have as much fun with the pictures as I do the words sometimes.