In US News, former ambassador and White House national security aide for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, G. Philip Hughes, on the so-called reforms of the Castro dictatorship:
Cuba Is Reforming, But Not Nearly Enough
Here is the headline Cuban authorities impressed on a delegation of former U.S. ambassadors during a week-long visit in early February: Change is coming to the Castro brothers’ Cuba. With the younger Raúl now in charge, Cuba has embarked on major economic reforms.
They had a point—up to a point.
Yes, reforms have happened. That’s clear. Small businesses—privately operated restaurants; small repair shops; hairdressers and similar personal care enterprises—are springing up and allowed to hire a few employees. Farmers may sell their “excess” production—after fulfilling their state-assigned quotas—in private markets for competitive prices. Cubans can even buy and sell private property—homes and autos—for the first time since 1959. Reportedly, there are nascent lending facilities, brokerages, advertising, and other essential accessories of markets springing up, though they’re so embryonic as to be scarcely noticeable.
Cuban officials say that the reforms are permanent—there’s no going back. Perhaps, but that wasn’t true with comparable, though more modest, reforms of the 1990s, when Cuba was coping with the loss of Soviet subsidies after the U.S.S.R. collapsed. The crisis ended; so, largely, did the reforms.
The latest reforms are intended not to change Cuba’s economic system but to “stabilize” it—and to make the Castro brothers’ political system “sustainable on a long-term basis.” As a European statesman once said of Gorbachev’s perestroika in the U.S.S.R., that is “like trying to make roasted snowballs”—but it’s what Raúl Castro intends. So these reforms come with strict, predefined limits.
There is no privatization or devolution of large enterprises or government monopolies; no privatization of the professional occupations; no privatization of the financial “sector”—such as it is. Foreign investment is limited to minority shares in joint ventures with state-owned enterprises. And the government aims to extract an uneconomically high “take” from any joint ventures seeking to exploit Cuba’s promising offshore oil deposits. As Cuba’s Foreign Minister emphasized: the reforms are limited—and they’ll stay that way.
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