Cuba: The Road to Prosperity

Erasmo Calzadilla

Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s Foreign Trade and Investment Minister

HAVANA TIMES — “Economic growth is key to environmental progress, because it is growth that provides the resources for investment in clean technologies.” – G.W. Bush

“The Cuban economy has maintained a sustained growth rate of 3% and we expect it will become even stronger thanks to the foreign investment the country hopes to attract through the Mariel Special Development Zone.” – Rodrigo Malmierca, Minister for Foreign Investment and Trade, during the opening address for the 31st Havana International Fair, November 2013.

I want to begin this post sharing with you my joy over some recent news: Cuba’s National Assembly (Parliament) convened recently and one of their conclusions is that the island’s economy continues to slow down. In his speech, President Raul Castro acknowledged that Cuba’s GDP has barely budged since January and that, with luck, it will have grown by 1.4 % by year’s end.

The economy only began to decelerate some two years ago, but the country’s growth rate is so low that, if it continues to decrease at the current pace (0.8 percentage points every year), Cuba will enter into a recession in a mere two years. The last recession the country experienced took place in 1993.

Year Growth Rate
2006 12.5
2007 7.3
2008 4.3
2009 1.4
2010 2.1
2011 2.7
2012 3.1
2013 2.7
2014 1.4
2015 0.6
2016 -0.2

As part of Raul Castro’s reform process, the country’s ideologues changed the official discourse to adjust it to Cuba’s new perspectives and interests. The rhetoric that extolled austerity as a revolutionary virtue was replaced with a song in praise of prosperity as the result of hard work. A few years later, however, prosperity has proven a bit elusive. Only a few privileged souls have been able to savor it, while the working masses continue to endure hardships.

Economics professor Juan Triana was one of the people tasked with “selling” the idea that development was necessary, feasible and highly desirable to Cuba’s bureaucratic and scientific elite. A subliminal message emanates from his charismatic lectures: “Raul Castro (unlike his brother) is taking the correct measures to lead us down the road to growth.” I would love it (and I think it would be the ethical thing for a professional to do) if Triana were to stand before the camaras again and explain where he, Raul Castro, or both, were mistaken.

I haven’t yet explained why I am happy about the stagnation of Cuba’s GDP. The fact is that, from my point of view (which I consider well-founded), the global economy, and Cuba’s in particular, is going to collapse sooner rather than later. If it continues to grow exponentially until the last moment, the catastrophic consequences of this will be unavoidable. The only way of averting an apocalyptic crash is to slow down gradually, as we are doing in Cuba despite the leaders’ wishes.

The gusanos* are also enthused about the ridiculous growth rate of Cuba’s economy, but for reasons very different from mine. They look on every failure of the Castros as a sign that their triumph is near. But no, gusanos, things are not so simple and clear-cut: you will not stand victorious at the end of this long battle and the Castros haven’t done everything wrong.

For instance, according to the World Nature Fund, Cuba is the only country in the world that meets their sustainability criteria: a human development index above 0.8 % and an ecological impact below 1.8 hectares per inhabitant. We’re moving backwards, like crabs, true, but our social problems are not remotely comparable to those of semi-prosperous nations in the American continent. We are moving back despite the always-optimistic plans of the elite, and, thanks to that, our society has not felt what one feels when the bulldozer of modernity, in its Third-World version, runs over you.

So, dear friends, I invite you to celebrate the timely deceleration of Cuba’s economy. As Cuba’s campaign against road accidents tells us: “Accidents can always be avoided.”

Note 1: I use the word gusano in non-pejorative sense to refer to Cubans opposed to the regime who consider that capitalism is the best alternative for the country.

Note 2: Degrowth is a current of political, economic and social thought calling for the gradual, controlled decrease of economic production, with a view to establishing a new balance between human beings and nature and among human beings as well.

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

20 thoughts on “Cuba: The Road to Prosperity

  • Jan why is Cuba leaving “the best farm land anywhere” fallow and reverting to bush whilst simultaneously purchasing 80% of its food requirements from other predominantly capitalist countries?

  • Thanks for your honest comment Andres. In the 21st century free speech is best expressed through mass media and the internet. Cubans are not free to publish anti-revolutionary material in hardcopy or digitally. Cubans are not permitted to televise anti-Castro views. Even this fantastic blog is not permitted to be managed from Cuba. The fact that you can say what you want on the street in front of a policeman is small consolation and even that is ‘illegal’ if not enforced. Your ‘taxes’ not only pay for a state education and health care system of declining quality but for a large military and intelligence complex far in excess of the norm for a small, poor country of only 11 million people.

  • Yes 90% of what we would make goes into the free education and health, the $15 a month is what we live on, Cubans we can speak and think freely, despite what foreign news says, it’s not really enforced as the police are in the same manner as everyone else.. HOWEVER To assemble against the state in any way yes is obvisously stopped by the directorate and MINFAR. Especially in oriente we openly can speak about anything, I cannot speak for la habana. But yes a large sum we are taxed to keep education free, doesn’t matter anywa

  • Erasomo,

    The Sustainability Index statistic you reported is derived from numbers provided to the UN agency by the Cuban government. Like all other examples of social statistics provided by the the Cuban government, half of what they say must be taken with a large grain of salt. And the other half is pure bullshit.

    “Degrowth” is not a new concept, it’s simply a new label for a well understood economic problem. Also known as recession, depression, and in it’s most destructive form, the deflationary spiral.

    To suggest that the Castros did something right by systematically destroying the wealth of the Cuban nation is ridiculous. They thought they could build material wealth and a socialist state with their revolution. The fact that they achieved neither cannot rationally be counted as a success.

  • Didn’t you indicate you were signing off? !! Why the continued posts. Besides who would you like as a counterpoint to the US….China, Russia, DPRK?

  • This time read this slowly to enhance understanding. Remittances are FREE money. The Cuban economy benefits from the charitable nature Americans are famous for around the world. As a result, the Castros receive additional hard currency not received from the embarrassingly low trade revenues which the Castros use to buy food and medicine. So, yes, indirectly, I support the Castro regime with my monthly care package to my wife’s family. Remittances are in lieu of trade revenues. Reread if you still don’t get it.

  • The United Snakes is a rogue state.
    It obeys only the laws it chooses to obey and there is no other superpower to stop or slow its predations.
    See the bibliography in my previous post above.
    Those books and websites will provide more than ample evidence of what I say.
    For those willing to look at things with which they disagree.

  • Your historical amnesia is quite convenient.
    It is universally accepted that when Kennedy et al put the embargo into place, it was with the explicit- OPENLY STATED – purpose of making life so miserable
    Do your research , look this up online
    This has been the central U.S. foreign policy in over 60 direct interventions and some 30 interventions into human rights and labor movements overseas since World War II.
    This central policy is factually presented case by case in “Rogue State” A Guide To The World’s Only Superpower ” and “Killing Hope ” both with eponymous websites and with extensive documentation. .
    Your failure to understand HISTORICAL U.S. foreign policy imperatives makes it impossible for you to provide a cogent argument on the situation today.

  • You would not admit to the efficacy of the embargo because that would detract from your efforts to put the blame entirely upon a non-existent SOCIALIST Cuban economy .
    Remittances have nothing to do with trade or exports.
    Another more than obvious fact that you choose to mis-define for your own purposes.
    You ARE that transparent.

  • Dani, I was responding to the ludicrous claim that the US is waging an “economic war” against Cuba. I justify the embargo differently. A “blockade” would involve the use of naval vessels and aircraft which would prevent all traffic from entering or leaving Cuba. What is codified in Federal Law as the Helms-Burton Act should be referred to simply as an embargo.

  • I can’t see the argument that because Cuba receives remittances and some tourism from the US that this is a justification for the embargo/blocade. It isn’t a case of one in lue of the other. A lot of other countries such as El Salvador depend heavily on remittances also but don’t have an embargo against them. When the embargo is finally dropped Cuba will still get the remittances and more tourist revenues as well.

  • This is very irresponsible article. You can nominate yourself as Cuban public enemy number 1. The last thing that Cuba needs is the promotion of poverty and the promotion of an inefficient economy. It places you in a very ridicule position to predict that the world economy is going down, when in the last 40 years the world economy has experienced the greatest improvement in history, even when the apocalyptic visionaries of the communist party try to convince people otherwise.

    I hope you don’t get many followers and that even the Cuban government
    doesn’t listen to you.

    You are probably alive because the human race has adopted a
    different approach; otherwise with the progress rate that you are proposing
    your live expectancy would have been 47 year. And you wouldn’t have the
    computer or the email system needed to write and spread over the internet this article.

    Cuba GPD per capita (current US$) in 1982 was $2,108
    Chile GPD per capita (current US$) in 1982 was $2,108

    Cuba GPD per capita (current US$) in 2011 was $6,051
    Chile GPD per capita (current US$) in 2011 was $14,512

  • The gusanos* are also enthused about the ridiculous growth rate
    of Cuba’s economy, but for reasons very different from mine. They look
    on every failure of the Castros as a sign that their triumph is near.
    But no, gusanos, things are not so simple and clear-cut: you
    will not stand victorious at the end of this long battle and the Castros
    haven’t done everything wrong.

  • Jan, living without freedom is its very own kind of hell. For the sake of the argument, if we agree that life in the countries you listed is economically more challenging for the majority of the populations, there is still an immeasurable value in being able to think and speak freely. By the way, education and health are not FREE in Cuba. Cubans pays more than 95% of their salaries in tax to pay for these benefits. Despite ideal agricultural conditions, the Castro-style socialist system still can’t manage to feed the Cuban people, leaving Cubans to purchase as much as 80% of their food consumption needs from abroad. Pesticides or not, what good is having “the best farm land anywhere” if you are too stupid to grow your own food.

  • Cuba and its people are still better off than Dominican Republic ,Jamaica ,El Salvador, Guatamala .Togo Ghana Guinea and Ivory cost [have lived in all of these places] yes cuba’s wages are low but the have FREE education and Health care and they are making changes and reforms
    …also they have the best farm land anywhere and have not used pesticides

  • Correct assumption. When you total cash and non-cash remittances from the US coupled with US exports to Cuba and topped off with the revenues from US tourists, the US ranks third on the list of Cuba’s trading partners behind Venezuela and China. Doesn’t sound like “war” to me.

  • The conclusion is? ” the working masses continue to endure hardships” whereas regarding prosperity: “only a few privileged souls have been able to savor it.” Five guesses who is included in the latter group!
    Fidel Castro Ruz
    Raul Castro Ruz
    Colonel Luis Alberto Rodriguez
    Mickey Mouse

  • “Economic War” John Goodrich?? Can you provide a link with data of the “Economic War” dear! I just love to learn! Something like the sample below!

    ECONOMIC EYE ON CUBA- February 2012 – Report For Calendar Year
    The use of trade data reported by the government of the Republic of Cuba is suspect. The government of the Republic of Cuba has been asked to provide verifiable data, but has not.

  • Good piece BUT it would be instructive to provide the economic statistics for similarly resourced capitalist countries to see how Cuba compares with the world.
    And….you can just imagine how much worse things would be in Cuba if its natural and historic trading partner , the rich and powerful United States , were to wage an economic war on the island to impoverish the economy say, for over 50 years.
    I assume that there is no such economic war since you never mentioned it.

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