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Another step toward capitalism in Cuba

Prepping sandwiches cuba ap

Cuba's plan to lay off half a million state workers is another bid to save its economy through gradual but strictly controlled reforms that lean toward, if not fully embrace, capitalism, Tracy Wilkinson reports in The Times.

Since it lost its chief patron when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the tiny Communist nation has struggled to sustain itself in a globalizing market economy. Recent help from Venezuela, the Cuban revolution's foremost cheerleader in Latin America, "can't last forever," Wilkinson writes.

Under the new plan, unproductive or overpaid state workers will be let go and allowed to enter into small mom-and-pop-style businesses. Lack of expertise and resources stirs doubt about how successful the plan might be, but a similar program for taxi drivers suggests that there's money to be had for the average Cuban.

Private taxi drivers make 33 times more than state-employed taxi drivers.

Wilkinson writes: "The list of approved businesses includes upholstery; repair of dolls, toys and umbrellas; animal shodding; music teaching; sales of flowers, herbal medicines and brushes; and manicures and eyebrow waxing."

And then there's the Castro quotient. In recent interviews with foreign journalists, Fidel Castro, the regime's looming former leader, has praised Carlos Slim, the world's richest man, and said Cuba's socialist economic model "doesn't even work for us anymore." He later backtracked on the comments.

Castro and his brother, Raul, who is now Cuba's president, have attempted to make it clear that they are not abandoning the revolution, or at least their grip on power. Since July, the government has released 36 political prisoners -- but booted most of them to Spain. The intelligence firm Stratfor reports that when Fidel Castro delivered a speech to students at the University of Havana earlier this month, which he used to backtrack on the economic-model statement, the aging former leader wore green military fatigues for the first time in four years. 

So far, Brazil, Latin America's largest economy, has offered to help Cuba with its layoffs and small-business development plans. On Monday, a leader in the U.S. House of Representatives said he is not giving up on seeking legislation that would relax travel and trade bans between Cuba and the United States.

The Times editorial board backs relaxing the bans, and so does the White House. In a 2009 story from the island, Wilkinson reported that "Havana is crawling with Americans these days."

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Workers prepare Cuban sandwiches at a snack bar in Havana. Credit: Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (8)

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That's original, NOT!


I strongly dislike articles like this one which give a false sense of progress and opening of Cuba to the world and/or Capitalism. First of all I must clarify THERE IS NO OVERPAID STATE EMPLOYEES IN CUBA. Even Doctors, Architects, and other professionals are not paid nearly enough even by Cuban standards. The only over paid state employees are Government Officials including the Castro Brothers. Cuba is a big Plantation, in which the Castro Brother's and their subordinates are the masters and the rest are merely slaves.

In Cuba everyone is employed by the state, and everyone is paid a subsidized salary. Most tenured professionals are paid around 600 to 700 cuban pesos a month which is the equivalent of about 25 dollars. However there is a very small minority which indeed gets paid that much. In any case the employee salary is the only subsidized item in the whole economy since all the other goods are exchanged based on the global market economy.

Cuba is not going towards Capitalism in anyway. They are just laying more people off because the State cannot sustain even the subsidized salaries that they hand to such employees. If and when real state officials move out of their stolen mansions and eat the rationed food they impose on the rest of the population, then the real overpaid state employees will be laid off.

Cuba's economy is a complete disaster and the only reason people are not starving to death is because some receive foreign remittances, mostly from the US, while others engage in underground economy dealings to which the state turns the other way at its convenience.

The truth is that since the 90's there has been a shift into small business to which the state will award licenses and heavily tax its owners to squeeze most of the profit and leaving the necessary amount of money to attain the very bare essentials. There is no real change in Cuba, other than more repression and oppression of the people. There is nothing revolutionary, communist, or progressive about Cuba, and things aren't going to change. This article would be acceptable if it was published from with in Cuba... it would be admired and revived as daring, and heroic. However in the outside world of the Free... its a mockery to the suffering of 12 million Cubans.

Capitalism is a failed system. It only benefits the rich and as we have seen in the past few years in the United States. It is the Capitalist PR machines that try to connect everything human to Capitalism such as freedom of speech. The truth is that It is the Capitalist and Imperialist policies of United States that has contributed to the survival of despotic regimes across the globe despite people standing up to it. Look at all the support Us has given to the most backward Arab Nations such as Saudi Arabia in the ME. If it weren't for sanctions and extreme and covert pressures of US and its allies, countries such as Cuba would do much better. Refusing to do business with them because they won't allow corrupt multi national corporation pillage and plunder their resources is the common practice of United States. China was the big enemy but it is powerful resourceful and a civilized nation of thousands of years. They don't need us to tell then how to manage their affairs. Cuba, this tiny island stood up to the big bully US for 50 yrs. They remained independent of the Capitalist neighbor and their Colonial Imperialist foreign policy. They will follow the Chinese model and play a bigger part and increase their presence on the world stage. This is not an open door for wall street crooks to move their scam down south and make a quick buck paid for by the Cuban. Hold your greedy Capitalist horses!

Regrettably the Obama Administration has been overcautious in the use of its power to expand the right of Americans to travel to Cuba for non-tourist people-to-people purposes.

Several news stories in August suggested they would announce significant changes while Congress was on recess. However it has been reported that they delayed the announcement until after the mid-term election November 2d under pressure from the hard line views of Cuban Americans and their allies in Congress.

Messages can be sent to the White House urging the President act with greater boldness.


When Castro says, "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore.", it is an acknowledgement that the Cuban 'revolutionary' model does not work *anymore*, in the new world environment. It is simply an admission of fact that the world has changed, Cuba has changed, and Fidel has changed. What is so controversial about this 'truth'? There can be no doubt that the revolutionary model was influenced by forces outside Cuba?s borders, both on the left and the right. There can be no doubt that the time has come for the revolutionary model to be retired, and in its place a 'Cuban' model, that incorporates the aspirations of 'all' Cubans. What has been misinterpreted in these words is that the revolutionary model had, or has, no credible legitimacy. An unfortunate twist of the meaning and intent of Fidel's words.

The people of Cuba have paid a very high price for 'their' revolution. It is a price that entails suffering and hardship, but it is also a price that produced a population literacy and life-expectancy equal if not exceeding that of the United States; the highest in Latin America. Prosperity is fleeting, as millions of Americans have come to realize, but the legitimacy of the socialist movement throughout Latin America is just becoming evident, as the Cuban model is shown to be 'no longer' relevant. That in no way is a admission of failure, it is simply the realization that the time for change has arrived. Although Fidel has denied repeatedly that Cuba does not export revolution, the present ascendancy of socialist governments throughout the region cannot be envisioned without the support of the Cuban revolution. It was to Fidel, and Cuba, that those who were called terrorists, looked to for support, and now are the leaders of progressive governments throughout the region.

These words are not to minimize the unfortunate communist aspects of the Cuban revolution. Neither are they an excuse for the inhumanity suffered by those who tried to subvert that revolution. 'All' are Cuban, 'all' are equally deserving of their Cuban heritage, and 'all' should be equally proud that the Cuban people have endured the longest revolution in the modern era. Fidel himself fully recognizes that he, who fathered that revolutionary model, is still relevant as the one who should lead in the dismantling of that model. Thank God, he still has the life and the ability to do so.

George Will recently commented in the Washington Post( )
Interesting how Mr. Will's prior 'fervent' anti-Communist rhetoric has changed in support of Capitalist investment in those 'failed' regimes.

No doubt he and his 'comrades' on Wall Street are calculating how much profit they can now squeeze from from low-cost Cuban labor. After all, an educated Cuban is so much more profitable than an educated American.

Afraid I don't agree with your understanding of economics. State Capitalism as emerged from the USSR and its satellites and then China and Vietnam is still capitalism from an economic standpoint. Its just the State playing all the central roles vis-a-vis external nations.

Cuba's decentralization will most likely still be a very strong State Capitalism, a la China, because its still consistent with their constitution and with their focus on socialist economic development. But you must also realize that these changes have been long planned. They first signaled interest in altering the percentage of State run industry in 2007. US media's interest in making their transition more than it will ultimately turn out to be is almost as silly as all the hooplah in the US several years ago about Fidel dying every 3 months. Get a hold of yourselves...


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About the Reporters
Ken Ellingwood
Daniel Hernandez
Efrain Hernandez Jr.
Chris Kraul
Richard Marosi
Tracy Wilkinson