The slow pace of reform in Cuba is raising questions about President Raúl Castro’s legacy, reports suggest. Frustration has begun to set in, with energy cuts paralyzing production, the economy shrinking and the country’s economic “updating process” seemingly going in reverse, notes Bert Hoffmann, a Senior Research Fellow at Berlin’s Free University:
In Cuba, political factors weigh very heavily. Laurence Whitehead from Oxford University stresses that the puzzle of the exceptional resilience of the Cuban regime cannot be understood without taking into account its sources of legitimization …..
As Cuba trumpeted new deals with Russia and Japan, U.S. corporate representatives see little immediate prospect for doing business with Cuba, Associated Press reports:
Saul Berenthal and Horace Clemmons were the seventy-something poster boys of U.S.-Cuba detente. The retired software entrepreneurs made worldwide headlines by winning Obama administration permission to build the first U.S. factory in Cuba since 1959. Cuban officials lauded their plans to build small tractors in the Mariel free-trade zone west of Havana. But after more than a year of courtship, the Cuban government told Berenthal and Clemmons to drop their plans to build tractors in Cuba, without explanation.
The Cuban economy remains distinctly communist. Juan A. Triana, a professor of economics at the University of Havana, said Cuba still plans to create a socialist utopia in the Caribbean.
“The reforms of 2014 by the Cuban Communist Party are setting the stage for a new socialism for the 21st century,” he said. “This is something that we will not renounce.”
Many things have changed in Cuba over the past year, people are no longer afraid of expressing their views and they have a bigger awareness of their rights, Cuban dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua (left), told the recent Forum 2000 conference in Prague.
But for those waiting for the ruling Communist Party Congress to allow greater flexibility for entrepreneurs, strengthening of the most orthodox line has increased their frustration, 14ymedio reports.
“Raul Castro’s government seems more willing to lose the income from taxes on entrepreneurs than to allow entrepreneurs to exist with positive results,” laments an economist at the University of Havana who asked to remain anonymous. “Although the foreign media has exaggerated the similarities between the reforms undertaken on the island and the Chinese and Vietnamese style models, in practice, Cuban officialdom strives every day to do the exact opposite.”
Cuba is at a tipping point, argues Richard E. Feinberg, a nonresident senior fellow in foreign policy at the Latin America Initiative of the Brookings Institution.
“Fidelista ideologues and bureaucratic inertia could stall reform—driving many more millennials to exit. Powerful state-owned enterprises could fight to preserve their comfortable monopolies and repress private initiative,” he contends.
Post-totalitarian nations often choose a new authoritarian regime that will have a different external appearance but will perform the same function of eliminating the anxiety and uncertainty of having to choose freely, notes José Azel, a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami:
As a political category, post-totalitarianism is incompatible with civil and political rights. And these rights are fundamental because without political rights the citizenry cannot assert any rights. Without political rights, economic rights lack foundation and are not rights but permits that can be revoked. Thus support for a post-totalitarian, non-democratic regime implies allowing the regime to impose an illegitimate order.
In truth this regime ended Cuba’s economic growth by placing the straitjacket of Communism on its economy, writes Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations [and board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO]:
Even PBS has acknowledged that before the Castro takeover, the literacy rate, 76%, was the fourth highest in Latin America. Cuba ranked 11th in the world in the number of doctors per capita. Many private clinics and hospitals provided services for the poor. Cuba’s income distribution compared favorably with that of other Latin American societies. A thriving middle class held the promise of prosperity and social mobility. . . . Between 1952 and 1958, Cubans from all walks of life — students, businessmen, mothers, politicians — united in opposition against Batista. Author Carlos Alberto Montaner describes the mood: “the talk was about democracy, freedom and respect for human rights; the . . . objective was to restore the rule of law that had been swept aside by Batista.”
“In the post-Fidel future, Cuban leaders are likely to follow the Chinese lead in maintaining the revolutionary image of their original great leader even as they dismantle much of his economic thinking and system,” the Hoover Institution’s William Ratliff has argued.
Similarly, Newsweek’s Latin America Editor Joseph Contreras wrote that Raul may “ditch Cuba’s Soviet economics in favor of Beijing’s free-market model.”
Does this mean that today’s experts are right when they warn that the Chinese Communist Party’s model of “authoritarian capitalism” could triumph over democratic capitalism? asks analyst Amanda Schnetzer. Or is there something unsustainable in the China model and, therefore, still hope that billions of people in the developing world might come to experience what Friedman called the “absence of coercion” in both political and economic life?