Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cuba's reforms bring hope amid austerity

Cuba's reforms bring hope amid austerity
Mission Network News - 4/20/2012Bookmark and Share

Cuba (MNN) ― All across Cuba, entrepreneurs striking out on their own as
locksmiths, plumbers, electricians and the like. They've always existed,
but operated on a smaller scale, illegally, in the informal economy.

When Cuba implemented its own austerity measures, they were denounced as
"draconian." The cuts were painful. However, Joseph Richter with FARMS
International says, "What I saw and what was described to me about what
it was like, even a year ago, was very dramatic because now you see
small businesses popping up along every street and small restaurants and
small enterprises that weren't even heard of just a year ago."

In the past 24 months, Cuba's communist government has announced a
series of economic openings intended to ease its announced plan to trim
the country's bloated government by 1 million jobs and to make the
government leaner. A lot of jobs disappeared, along with the safety
nets. Richter says, "What really impressed me was the work ethic of the
Cuban people and their excitement about this new opportunity to work for
themselves, to gain a profit and to help their family. They see a much
brighter future."

FARMS was in Cuba to provide instruction, but they could also assess
what was really going on and plan for more future work. Very little
vocational training has been made available for Cubans as they
transition into the marketplace.

Richter explains, "We were there to train people in economic
stewardship, as far as the church is concerned--the whole issue of
giving and tithing and how the church can be strengthened through
families that prosper and families that give generously to their local

The reforms include expanded self-employment, a liberalization of rules
surrounding family-run restaurants, greater flexibility for Cuban
farmers to sell their products, Richter notes. "The government now is
leasing land, or allowing farmers to lease land from the government, to
produce crops and animals and those types of things that can be sold on
the open market."

Most of the 181 newly allowed self-employment categories involve things
like beauty salons, barber shops, plumbers, and other service oriented
work. "This is a big change in Cuba. We need to be wise, we need to be
thoughtful about the opportunities there for the Christians, and also
the opportunities there for us to pray for our brothers and sisters in
that country."

The opportunities are exciting. For one thing, says Richter, "There is
more and more openness to help from the churches. This is something that
will be a matter of prayer and a matter of thanking the Lord for because
still, the country is under a lot of restrictions."

The time spent in the oppressive atmosphere has created spiritual
hunger. The Church is growing, therefore, the Gospel is getting out.
Hope means Cuba can think about its future. "It's changing fast, and in
a good way, I think. We're not concerned so much about the political
situation there; we're more concerned about the freedom in the church,
and we're praying that God would just keep that door open."

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