In 2011, the Cuban government began instituting reforms to open the economy, allowing for a dynamically emerging private sector, a growing middle class and a wider range of more attractive goods and services. As a result, about 20 percent of the Cuban workforce can now be classified as a participant in the private sector and are poised to create jobs and provide real savings opportunities. However, emerging entrepreneurs face many challenges – an inaccessible state banking system, scarcity of critical capital and commercial rental space, burdensome taxation and an uncertain business climate. It remains unclear whether the powerful Cuban state is prepared to allow private businesses to grow, partner with state entities to take advantage of foreign capital and set Cuba on a sustainable path towards prosperity.
On November 8, the Latin America Initiative in Foreign Policy at Brookings hosted the launch of a new study, “Soft Landing in Cuba? Emerging Entrepreneurs and Middle Classes,” by Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Richard Feinberg, a former advisor to the Clinton administration’s National Security Council and now professor at the University of California, San Diego. Drawing on conversations with Cuban business owners, the report locates emerging entrepreneurs and the modern middle class as the potential pillars of a new economic model that could bring a soft landing for the Cuban economy. Feinberg was joined by Carlos Saladrigas, chairman of the Cuba Study Group. Senior Fellow Ted Piccone, acting director and vice president of Foreign Policy at Brookings, provided introductory remarks and moderated the discussion.