Saturday, April 30, 2011

Churches Help Cubans through Economic Transition

Churches Help Cubans through Economic Transition
By Stan Jeter
CBN News Senior Producer
Friday, April 29, 2011

The aging revolutionaries who have controlled Cuba for the past 50
years, haven't trained younger leaders to take their place.

That became evident at the long-awaited Communist Party Congress in
April, when 79-year old Raul Castro was named the party's first
secretary, and the number two spot went to an 80-year-old.

A feeble Fidel Castro, 84, made a surprise appearance. This was the
first time in the Congress' history that he wasn't included on the
powerful central committee.

That post went to his brother Raul, who admitted that Cuba has a
succession problem. Raul Castro made a surprise recommendation of term
limits for politicians -- including himself.

"We have reached the conclusion that it is recommendable to limit to a
maximum of two five-year consecutive terms all the state's fundamental
political positions," he said.

But that's not the only problem that keeps Cuba among the poorest
nations in the Americas.

The government employs eight out of every 10 Cuban workers, a dead
weight the economy can't sustain.

Raul Castro knows the country has to shed its Communist baggage, but as
the new party leader he made a pledge to the faithful.

"To defend, preserve, and continue to perfect socialism and never allow
the return of the capitalist regime," he said.

"Cuba right now is in a state of great confusion between shifting from
purely a Socialist Communist system to a quasi market system," said Teo
Babun, leader of the Miami-based charity Echo Cuba.

"Not quite at the acceleration of China or Vietnam, and not knowing
where they're going," Babun said. "But being very cautious not to let
this whole thing get out of hand for them."

Last year, Raul promised to reduce the bloated government payroll by
laying off half a million workers.

While the the massive government layoffs haven't happened, the
uncertainty has left many Cubans on edge. Now, many evangelical churches
are helping their members create their own jobs.

"What the more aggressive churches have been doing is allowing the
individual members of the churches to partner with organizations outside
of Cuba that will help them start small businesses and therefore become
tithers, for example, to the churches and supporters of the social
programs that the churches are running," Babun explained.

With the help of Echo Cuba, Cuban evangelicals have started more than
1,200 small businesses.

"We select Cubans within the churches that are entrepreneurial. We help
them write a business plan, guide them in the process of how to start
their business, and then bring them a 'business in a box,'" Babun said.

"Everything that they need to start a business is basically purchased
outside of Cuba and brought to Cuba so that they can get things going,"
he said.

But the budding entrepreneurs first have to forget what the Communist
government has taught them for the past 50 years.

"The Socialist model of Cuba, starting in 1959, [has] one head,
everything coming down," Babun continued.

"They really don't understand how to meet together, how to create
collaboration with each other, how to make decisions in a meeting
format," he said. "All those things that we take for granted, they don't
understand it."

If churches are to help members survive Cuba's economic crisis, they
must learn the basics of a free market economy.

Once Christians start their own businesses, Babun said other freedoms
may follow.

"The freedom to be able to operate not only in the marketplace, but also
in their place of worship," he said. "Freely, without any kind of
restriction from any form of government."

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