The Freedom House report on Cuba released today finds that Cubans see
real economic change there, and more Cubans now would rather work for
themselves than hold once-prized state jobs.
By Sara Miller Llana, Staff writer / October 21, 2011
Many Cubans were excited about the prospects of economic change,
particularly opening access to self-employment. But, as state jobs were
slashed, many were also worried about going it alone after a lifetime of
stable, if paltry, government salaries and subsidies.
But a new Freedom House survey released today shows a radical change in
perceptions. Forty-one percent of Cubans say the country is making
progress, compared to only 15 percent who felt optimistic about the
country's future when Freedom House last conducted field research in
December 2010. In fact, today more Cubans say they would prefer to work
for themselves than for the government, the survey shows.
Less than a year ago, Cubans were "very skeptical about change. They
doubted real change would happen," says Daniel Calingaert, deputy
director of programs at Freedom House and co-author of the study. This
survey was carried out in June, after reforms were implemented formally
at the Sixth Community Party Congress in April. And now, Mr. Calingaert
says, Cubans see "change is real."
This economic opening is the "most significant positive change to have
taken place in Cuba since communism was introduced half a century ago,"
the new survey concludes.
At first glance, Cuban optimism could be a good sign for the Castro
government. But it could also pose additional challenges. Cubans who
have tasted economic freedom say they want more, and a bit of stability
has also allowed them the luxury to think beyond the day-to-day
economics of feeding a family. "It's opening people to new
possibilities," says Calingaert. "There is more interest in individual
Indeed, one of the more surprising findings is that, when asked what
reforms they most wanted, Cubans said increased freedom of expression
and the freedom to travel (28 percent). This is a radical change from
the most recent study, when economic reform topped the wish list of
The Cuban government has a long way to go on the freedom front. Most
Cubans continue to get their news from the government. The poll showed
that only 40 percent of Cubans surveyed knew what happened to Egypt's
leaders, while only 36 percent knew how the revolution in Tunisia ignited.
Here are some of the survey's specific major findings:
- 79 percent say they have noted visible change in the past six months
in Cuba, including more self-employed on the streets.
- 63 percent of respondents favor the reforms introduced under Raul
Castro. The report quotes an ice-cream vendor: "Imagine, I can make more
money selling ice cream than I ever did as an accountant for the
- 49 percent say that it is better to work for themselves, compared to
44 percent who say a government job is better.
That is not to say that Cubans aren't wary of changes ahead of them. For
example, the field research culled commentary from Cubans voicing
concern about unsteady incomes, having enough funds to start their own
businesses – especially those without family in the US to help – and
growing resentment among less successful entrepreneurs.
"The changes are causing a sense of insecurity and resentment among some
Cubans, as might be expected in a country where citizens were almost
entirely dependent on government for their material needs and had no
experience of market competition," the report says. "Such insecurity and
resentment accompanied the shift from communism to market economies in
Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. While the insecurity and
resentment presents a challenge for reform in Cuba, it is also a
reflection of how profound are the changes that are currently underway."