A new Cuba in the making
A new Cuba in the making
Is the Caribbean outpost of communism finally opening its doors to
capitalism? Or is Cuba trying something quite different? Vanessa Baird
begins her investigation of a changing land.
Say Cuba, and you will provoke some of the most polarized responses,
even from people who have never been there.
The tropical island nation has come to symbolize so much – depending on
But beyond dispute is its most remarkable story of survival. Few could
have imagined that the country’s communist government, led by Fidel
Castro, could have continued for more than a few days after the collapse
of the Soviet Union that was its mainstay.
And yet, 23 years on, the Communist Party is still in charge – albeit
with a slightly younger and smaller Castro at the helm.
But Cuba is changing. The government of 83-year-old Raúl Castro, who
took over from brother Fidel when the latter became ill in 2006, is in
the throes of implementing a 311-point reform plan that could alter the
country beyond recognition. It has been described as a ‘life or death
blueprint to save the revolution’.1
Outside Cuba the changes are referred to as ‘reforms’; inside, the
official term is ‘updates’. It’s a semantic difference that may seem
small, but is politically significant. The task being undertaken is not,
the government claims, a turn to capitalism but a necessary
restructuring to adapt Cuban socialism – as it’s called on the island –
to a changing world circumstance and to ensure its survival.
Official recognition that change was needed has been a while coming. For
years ordinary Cubans have been ground down by daily hassles and
privations – queues, shortages, petty bureaucracy, over-regulation,
corruption and endless promises of a better life that never seemed to
materialize. Citizen discontent came across loud and clear during a
series of public consultations in 2011, in which almost nine million
Pithy and pragmatic, Raúl Castro does not mince his words. This is the
last chance, he says, for the ‘historic generation’ to correct past
errors and secure the future of the revolution’s socialist development.
Past ‘dogmas’ and ‘failed schemes’ must be rejected. Inefficiency and
cover-ups by political and managerial élites will no longer be
tolerated. He has sacked ministers who were considered his friends. The
younger Castro has even lambasted his party’s love of ‘pomposity’ and
Fidel Castro, who recently turned 88, is said to be supportive of the
reform process launched by his brother. In an unguarded moment, the
revolutionary icon admitted to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, ‘the Cuban
model does not even work for us any more’, when asked whether he was
still keen to export it.1
The transformation is now well under way and expected to continue
through the next few years.
Much is already apparent. There is more personal freedom. Cubans can
travel abroad, open small businesses, buy or sell their homes or cars,
and are even permitted to buy new foreign cars – if they can stump up
$120,000 for a model that retails at $30,000 in Europe.
Dysfunctional state companies are being broken up, jobs deemed surplus
to requirement are being phased out, and land (all owned by the state)
is being distributed to thousands of small farmers. In April this year
the government changed the rules to make Cuba more attractive to foreign
So what do the reforms – or updates – mean for this rare outpost of
communism? Is Cuba actually throwing in the towel and giving way to
capitalism? Will the social gains of the revolution – such as universal
free healthcare and education – be sacrificed?
Is this the beginning of the end for one-party rule? What about
relations with that hostile neighbour, the US?
And, most important, what do ordinary Cubans make of it all?
We visit the country to try to find out.
Source: A new Cuba in the making — New Internationalist –