Monday, September 20, 2010

Layoffs in Cuba

Layoffs in Cuba
Monday, September 20, 2010

RAÚL AND FIDEL Castro find themselves in a jam. The gerontocratic rulers
of Cuba are facing the worst economic crisis in decades: Food production
is falling, the last sugar harvest was the worst in a century and only
billions in subsidies from Venezuela's erratic Hugo Chávez are keeping
the country afloat. Yet 79-year-old Raúl and 84-year-old Fidel are
determined to preserve as much as possible of the country's failed
socialist system -- and they have no intention of allowing greater
political freedom.

So the brothers are launching a series of economic half measures and
political feints in the hope of patching their regime without having to
change it. The latest came last week with the announcement that 500,000
Cuban workers -- or 10 percent of the state labor force -- would be laid
off from their jobs. Some will be shifted directly to the private sector
by turning small state enterprises into private cooperatives, while the
rest will be expected to find work in an expanded "self-employment"
sphere, where Cubans are licensed to work in such vocations as toy
repairman and piñata producer.

Some Cuba watchers have proclaimed this the biggest economic upheaval
since the 1960s and predicted that Cuba will soon resemble China and
Vietnam, capitalist countries governed by communist dictatorships. In
reality, the Castros appear to intend something closer to the emergency
reforms that were introduced in the early 1990s, after the collapse of
the Soviet Union. Private employment was also allowed to expand then but
was tightly controlled. In this instance, too, the regime expects to
blanket the new private sector with regulations and taxes and has no
plans to provide capital, access to materials, or foreign investment.

Predictably, apologists for the Castros and for U.S. corporate
agriculture greeted the half step with renewed calls for the lifting of
what remains of the embargo on trade with Cuba, or at least the end of
all restrictions on travel. This, too, is part of the Castros' strategy.
The regime has begun slowly releasing political prisoners into exile --
another limited concession that it has made before -- in the expectation
that the Obama administration will respond and that a wave of American
tourists will arrive with desperately needed dollars. In fact, the
administration reportedly is planning a liberalization of travel
restrictions, though not a lifting of the tourism ban.

Such an adjustment, which would return U.S. policy to where it was
during the Clinton administration, may be the best response to the
Castros' half measures. Fundamental changes of U.S. policy toward Cuba
should await fundamental reforms by the regime. When average Cubans are
allowed the right to free speech and free assembly, along with that to
cut hair and trim palm trees, it will be time for American tourists and
business executives to return to the island.

No comments:

Post a Comment