After decade of Raul Castro, reform still lagging


Veteran Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas was briefly hospitalized in Santa Clara on Friday after losing consciousness in his home on the 16th day of a hunger strike to protest government repression, Reuters reports:

This was the second time the 54-year-old Farinas, who has staged more than 20 similar actions over the years, was rushed to receive medical attention and intravenous liquids since starting the hunger strike after what he said was a beating by police in his home city of Santa Clara in central Cuba. Farinas, who received the European Union’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2010, is demanding that such beatings cease and a meeting between dissidents and the government to negotiate an end to repression.

Despite some economic reforms and a thawing of diplomatic relations over the last decade, change is still “slow and insufficient,” analysts say.

Architects of the new US-Cuba policy rationalize that unconditionally ending economic sanctions will strengthen Cuba’s self-employed sector and, thus, foster a civil society more independent of the government. Eventually, they explain, this more autonomous civil society will function as agents of change, pressuring the regime for democratic governance. But this is an ethnocentric proposition anchored on economic determinism that overweighs economic variables and fails to understand the Cuban regime, writes José Azel, senior scholar at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies:

For example, in a totalitarian system, those in self-employed activities remain bound to the government for the very existence of their businesses. Self-employment in a totalitarian setting does not confer independence from the government. On the contrary, it makes the newly minted entrepreneurs more beholden to the government in myriad bureaucratic ways, as few are willing to risk their livelihood antagonizing their all powerful patrons.

Raul Castro’s slow changes in the state-controlled economy have been too limited, in agriculture too tight and in self-employment too short, notes Havana-based independent journalist Miriam Leiva:

Foreign investment hasn’t flown as needed. Oil from Venezuela shrunk. Individuals are not motivated to work hard following absurd regulations and receiving ridiculous salaries. Scores of officials and bosses at all levels are reluctant to give way to changes afraid of losing their privileges and political command. The revolution created corruption and destroyed moral values that will take a long time to restore.

Historical evidence shows economic reforms do not necessarily lead to democratization, and that democratization most likely leads to economic progress, argues Azel. Democratization is the horse that must lead the cart of economic progress. Putting the cart before the horse means that neither economic nor political reforms will go far.

To put it another way, economic policies shape the economic incentives, but political engagement shapes the economic policies, Azel contends:

What is not well understood by some is that economic problems flow from a lack of political rights and that social capital is a driver of these processes. The absence of civic engagement in absolutist societies means there is no effective feedback loop from society to policymakers. Without the feedback made possible by political rights, economic reforms cannot generate inclusive economic progress and inevitably degenerate into concentrated power and wealth. What oppressed societies need most is the restoration of political rights to promote interpersonal trust and civic engagement.

Most Latin American countries continue to diminish their own democracy by accepting the exceptionality of Cuba, whose one-party regime represents a clear hindrance to the consolidation of democratic institutions, the rule of law and respect fundamental freedoms in the region, argues Gabriel C. Salvia, Chairman of Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (CADAL) and author of the book “Diplomacy and human rights in Cuba: From the Black Spring to the liberalization of political prisoners”.

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