Cuba: A Caribbean Tiger?

Erasmo Calzadilla

Juan Triana

HAVANA TIMES — Juan Triana is a Cuban economist we’re hearing more and more of in these days of change. An articulate man, he is precise in his proposals and implacable in his criticisms.

Listening to him speak, suggest that there is really no way around simple economics, that the system is about mathematics and that we will always pay dearly for our idealistic fantasies, is almost like having an epiphany, a refreshing feeling after having suffered Fidel Castro’s totalitarian-philanthropic dementia for so long.

I like this feeling, but I disagree completely with this shrewd economist on one point: the issue of development.

Triana is an ardent proponent of economic development as verified by GDP growth.

What he affirms is that, in order for Cuba to get on the train of the global economy, it must have a Gross Domestic Product similar to those of the Asian Tigers in their best moments, above 7%. Only then will we be able to distribute and re-invest efficiently.

For me, this idea of development is like a carrot at the end of a stick. Why?

First of all, because it is part of an economic paradigm in which human beings (“human capital”, as it is called) are a means rather than an end. Happiness, wellbeing, people’s concrete living conditions stay out of the equation if they do not have a direct impact on the production of quantifiable goods and services.

By imposing his idea of happiness upon us, Fidel Castro sacrificed the country’s economy in one fell swoop. That was far from good for us, but, in our comeback, it is important that we do not sacrifice human beings themselves just to latch onto China’s locomotive (or any fast locomotive out there).

Second of all, because we now know very well that exponential economic growth (even of a modest 1 percent) is not sustainable, not even in the mid-term. Hasn’t this economist been told that we’ve already gone past the oil peak and that even the most powerful nations are having a difficult time growing economically? Hasn’t he realized that a global ecological disaster is practically at our doorsteps?

Listening to him, one gets the impression he is still living in the happy sixties (when the Asian Tigers took off), when oil was gushing out of the earth as though from an inexhaustible spring, and the environment had the lungs of a baby.

Even if the idea of growing at the rate of 7% were implemented only by Cuba, as a means of making up for lost time, I would prefer a sounder economic project which can be applied to other countries as well, at the risk of missing the train of the global economy (which is heading towards a precipice anyways).

In essence, Juan Triana has the following good news for us: “Development is near. Repent for your sins and make huge sacrifices. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a poor nation to enter the kingdom of the global economy.” The believers enthusiastically applaud.

Now, I would like to leave you with the catchy refrain of song by one of reggaeton’s precursors, a man who was also quite the admirer of the Asian Tigers: Cuban singer Candiman.

– Do you want me to take you to Singapore? *
– Yeah, baby.

– Do you want me to take you to Singapore?
– Yeah, baby.

– Do you want me to take you to Singapore?
– Yeah, baby.

– If you want me to take you there, come over and taste my milkshake.
* A suggestive use of the country’s name, which sounds like the vulgar, Cuban slang word “singar”, to fuck.

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.

6 thoughts on “Cuba: A Caribbean Tiger?

  • Theoretically, small coops sound great. Even in practice, in certain industries, they continue to make sense. But for industries like pharmaceuticals, heavy manufacturing, consumer electronics, and others the large initial capital investment and/or low profit margins make the use of coops untenable.

  • Many people do start their own businesses. It’s called entreprenuership. It’s nothing new, in fact, it’s what built America in the first place. But you are correct that the current political climate in America is making it harder to do so, stacking the deck against small business in favour of large corporations.

    Yet look around you at who the giants in US business are today: Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon… all of these companies, and thousands of lesser known businesses, were started by individuals or small groups, often literally in their garages. Entrepreneurship is not dead, it’s only wounded.

  • Because several of the folks Packard follows in his book offer beter alternative models of development (like the ones to which Erasmo eludes). Instead of depending on the manna from the large, multi-national corporations, folks should begin forming cooperatives, or assessing local resources, then start their own enterprises. The energy entrepreneur from North Carolina is a great model. Even though he failed once (crushed by the multi-national energy corporations), he picked himself up and has begun again. Also, the activist in the de-industrialized city of Youngstown, Ohio, who is in the process of rebuilding her community, is another. In my own way I make a point of never shopping at the big box stores and mega-super-markets, but only with local mechants and farmers, even if I have to pay a bit more. At least I know their labor is not exploited by the miserable multi-national corporations

  • What the f*ck does a book about the disappearing middle class in the US have to do with the disastrous policies the Castros put in place in Cuba? Solving Cuba’s problems is not a zero sum game based on designing a system like what we have in the US or doing nothing at all. How about reforms in Cuba based on what will work for Cuba? Defending Castro by attacking the US is a silly ploy.

  • Like the “salary reform” here, Moses, which have resulted in the remuneration of the 1% ( and their 6 to 8% flunkies and appologists) have received millions, tens-of-millions, even hundreds of millions of $$$, while middle-class received little, and the working class, adjusted for inflation, have actually lost ground since the 1970’s?
    For those HT readers who really wish to know what’s been going on in the U.S.A. since the 1970’s, I recommend The Unwinding, by George Packer. It is probably the best portrait of the current scene since Dos Passos’s U.S.A. Trilogy (of the 1930’s) to which it has been favorably compared.

  • Until there is salary reform in Cuba, there will be no increase in worker productivity which is the engine to economic growth. Until the best and brightest young minds in Cuba see a future for themselves in Cuba, there will be no innovation which is the fuel of economic growth. Until the Castros leave, nothing will really change.

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