Tourists ‘literally eating Cuba’s lunch’: reform a distant prospect


cuba-open-for-businessThe changes in Cuba in recent years have often hinted at a new era of possibilities: a slowly opening economy, warming relations with the United States after decades of isolation, a flood of tourists meant to lift the fortunes of Cubans long marooned on the outskirts of modern prosperity. But the record arrival of nearly 3.5 million visitors to Cuba last year has caused a surging demand for food, causing ripple effects that are upsetting the very promise of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, The New York Times reports:

Tourists are quite literally eating Cuba’s lunch. Thanks in part to the United States embargo, but also to poor planning by the island’s government, goods that Cubans have long relied on are going to well-heeled tourists and the hundreds of private restaurants that cater to them, leading to soaring prices and empty shelves. Without supplies to match the increased appetite, some foods have become so expensive that even basic staples are becoming unaffordable for regular Cubans.

“The private tourism industry is in direct competition for good supplies with the general population,” said Richard Feinberg, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and specialist on the Cuban economy. “There are a lot of unanticipated consequences and distortions.”

CUBA DIRECTORIOIn fact, beyond the exchange of prisoners and humanitarian gestures carried out two years ago, there was no conventional deal behind most of President Barack Obama’s Cuba initiatives, adds Feinberg and Brookings analyst Ted Piccone. Rather, Obama mostly acted unilaterally in the belief that rebuilding relations between the U.S. and Cuba would eventually move a post-Castro Cuba toward a more open economy and freer society, they write for Americas Quarterly:

Obama was playing the long game, confident that removing the U.S. as “the enemy” would help the Cuban people opt for more pluralist alternatives to an archaic centralized socialism. For Obama, then, attempting to negotiate each step with the Cuban government in a tit-for-tat exchange would only have delayed matters, and conceded to Havana control over the pace of change.

Cuban President Raul Castro is well aware of the risks posed by Venezuela’s economic rout and has been searching for new sources of economic survival, notes analyst Fabio Rafael Fiallo. Hence what he calls his “updating of Cuba’s economic and social model” — the instillation of doses of market economy that look innocuous compared to the economic reforms China and Vietnam have put in place, he writes for RealClearWorld:

Hence, too, the thaw in diplomatic and economic relations with the “Empire” (i.e. the United States) negotiated with U.S. President Barack Obama through the mediation of the Vatican. The two components of Raul Castro’s survival program — homeopathic doses of market economy and diplomatic and economic overtures to the United States — are now showing signs of strain. Ideological and bureaucratic hurdles, as well as the vested interests of the ruling elite, make meaningful and effective economic reform a distant prospect. RTWT

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