Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cuba's tailspin into the `free' market

Posted on Sunday, 09.19.10
Cuba's tailspin into the `free' market

OUR OPINION: Castro's latest desperation move won't work

As Cuba's failed economy struggles after a half century of quashing
individual creativity and entrepreneurship, the regime has come up with
a plan to lay off a half-million workers -- 10 percent of its workforce.
They are being encouraged to open small businesses, instead.

Sounds like ``capitalism-lite'' to us.

Not so, says Fidel Castro, who has been making speeches to university
students. The octogenarian says he was misunderstood when he told a
reporter for The Atlantic magazine recently that the Fidelista economic
model no longer works. It's capitalism that doesn't work, he corrected.

It's no secret that Cuba is broke and has been for years, even before
the Soviet Union's subsidies ended two decades ago.

Raúl Castro has been hinting about changes since his brother Fidel
became sick, and Raúl was put in charge. ``We have to erase forever the
notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where one can live
without working,'' Raúl told Cuba's National Assembly recently.

Lost hope

And no wonder many Cubans don't seem to want to work. They long ago lost
hope that a college education or specialized training would reward them
with better earnings, much less let them move to a better home or buy a
used car. Cuban youth have grown weary of a dictatorship that seeks to
monitor their music, limit their use of the Internet and keep them
focused on their next meal by standing in line with their ration cards
for steadily declining goods.

Truth is, most Cubans work hard. They just don't work that hard for the
government jobs that pay on average $20 a month. To survive they have
had to turn to the black market for work or depend on family remittances
from abroad if they're so lucky.

Over the years, doctors, lawyers and military officials, among others
with ``revolutionary'' clout in Cuba, have been allowed to open
paladares (home restaurants), to try to offset their lousy earnings.

But the Cuban government imposed so many rules on those restaurants --
from the number of chairs allowed to the types of meals that can be
served (no lobster!) -- and hit them with burdensome taxes of 50 percent
or more that the wannabe entrepreneurs had no choice but to close or do
their business in hiding. This has meant paying off government overseers
so they can sell ``illegal'' lobster meals to European tourists with a
wink and a nod.

Farmers markets were another attempt for Havana to survive after the
Soviet Union's collapse, but there, too, the regime came down hard so
that profits were cut to the bone.

Not equipped for business

Now the Cuban people, having been told that their ration cards are
losing value and their free meals at work will no longer be served, have
to look toward private employment without having the materials necessary
to start up their own businesses. Where does a seamstress buy fabrics in
Cuba that aren't price-prohibitive? Where would a furniture maker get
the wood to craft a table and chairs?

For decades, Cubans have been resolviendo, taking care of things, buying
goods on the black market pilfered from government warehouses. That
won't change under this new plan until the Castros are gone.

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