What Impact Are Recent Reforms Having on Cuba’s Economy?

May 9, 2008

Several guest commentators, including Cuba expert Vicki Huddleston, responded to questions posed by the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor. The full issue is available on their Web site.

Q. Cuban President Raul Castro has shifted control over agriculture into local hands and has dramatically cut bureaucracy in an effort to stimulate food production in the Caribbean nation. Will the reform have its intended effect? Overall, what impact do you expect the series of mostly modest reforms announced by Castro in recent months to have on Cuba’s economy? What other economic reforms might be in the pipeline?

A. “When is a reform not a reform? Cubans are talking on cellphones, watching the ‘Sopranos’ on TV, and planting crops on their own land. But according to President Bush, these are only ’empty gestures at reform.’ Cubans are no longer barred from tourist hotels, but this isn’t reform because most Cubans can’t afford the price of a meal or a room. Yet, imagine how much better Cubans must feel about themselves now that they are no longer second-class citizens in their own country? Some reforms are labeled ‘cosmetic’ because they are designed to increase Raul’s popularity. But the reforms in the agricultural sector are doing considerably more than making Cubans feel good. Cuban farmers can now buy land, sell directly to large purchasers such as hotels and hospitals, and acquire farm tools of their choice. As this continues, Cuba’s farmers could become its first capitalists. The administration’s comments on the reform process remind me of the movie ‘Eyes Wide Shut,’ in which dreams and reality are intertwined. Are these reforms the stuff of dreams? It is much too early to say. But if we look at the facts—at reality—we must acknowledge that this is the beginning of a process that if continued will lead to considerably more personal freedom and better lives for Cubans. To the extent that this is true, then US policy should not only acknowledge these reforms but seek to encourage their continuation and expansion.”