An Inclusive Cuba Would Always Be Stronger

By Fernando Ravsberg

A private restaurant.
A private restaurant.  Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz


HAVANA TIMES – It is no secret that Washington is slowly moving away from its former partners of dissent and betting on the self-employed, cooperatives and Cuban entrepreneurs, born under the reforms led by President Raul Castro.

The advantages of these over traditional dissenters are huge; they are integrated into society, their compatriots consider them successful people and they have their own financial resources, so the government doesn’t have to maintain them and the water in which they swim is the market economy.

They even have contradictions with the prevailing social model on the island, which ties their hands with an inefficient bureaucracy, by officials always slow to make decisions, some corrupt and many fearful of losing their position.

Private hostels have picked up the deficit of tourist rooms in Cuba. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
Private hostels have picked up the deficit of tourist rooms in Cuba. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Workers and self-employed entrepreneurs are frowned upon by the more political “orthodox”, those who still believe that the purity of socialism is measured by the amount of the means of production in the hands of the state. It’s the hangover from drinking so many Soviets manuals.

Those who go to the sources of socialism can see that Karl Marx merely proposed nationalizing only the “core means of production” and Lenin put it into practice promoting private initiative in the New Economic Policy (NEP).

And if we look at the roots of Cuba, José Martí would be an enemy of the concentration of capital in few hands because “exclusive wealth is unfair.” He also noted that “a nation that is rich has many small owners”.

The worst of the orthodox view is that they use the media to fill the citizenry with their prejudices, fears and suspicions, some of them confirmed by the new US strategy, but many others are just to scare people.

The future will depend on who this emerging sector identifies with. In this terrain their economic interests will be first, but they will also be influenced by more subjective aspects such as nationalism, social conscience or political ideas.

If the authorities and economists have determined that more than one million state workers must move to the private sector, they should act consistently, making them feel that their economic interests are inextricably linked to those of the nation.

It’s not about preparing tangled speeches; it would be suffice to explain the closure to foreign investment in some branches of food service and hostels, benefitting locals by limiting the competition from large conglomerates.

The activity in Cuba of self-employed has increased the product availability for domestic customers and non-hotel offers for foreign tourists. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
The activity in Cuba of self-employed has increased the product availability for domestic customers and non-hotel offers for foreign tourists. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

The entrance to Cuba of fast food chains or international restaurants, for example, would put the Cuban businesses at a very unequal confrontation, both in production costs and by the experience and accumulated capital.

SMEs, cooperatives and the self-employed, should be the first interested in maintaining some niches in the economy in the hands of Cubans because that way they defend their own interests while enhancing the nation.

However, there are also subjective aspects that influence. It has to do with the appreciation or contempt with which they are treated. In the Cuban press and in some political speeches remain too many prejudices against this private sector, a legitimate child of the Cuban Revolution.

Corruption cases are always mentioned much more concerning private businesses than in state enterprises, despite the fact that the economic crimes in the state sector are far more, due to it being much larger and also by the huge lack of controls.

It takes forever for a cooperative to be approved and the self-employed have no wholesale markets to purchase supplies. They are also forbidden from importing. Likewise, only 200 forms of self-employment are allowed, while the inspectors bleed them dry demanding money under the table.

The economic role of the autonomous may seem small compared to the state but the fact is that the reforms would be impossible without them. No government can run efficiently if it has to address both nickel mines and the street sale of fritters.

The private sector reduces the number of state employees; covers the lodging deficit for tourists outside the hotels; solves everyday problems of the population, and contributes to the national coffers with taxes while allowing the government to address the crucial sectors.

Private enterprise is not an enemy of the nation or even “a necessary evil.” Sometimes it even has a social profile in its project, such as the case of Papito the barber or the Cuban Art Factory, where culture and sustainability merge.

As in any other economic and social sectors there will be corrupt or unprincipled people but President Raul Castro himself said most are “patriots”. So why so much prejudice, mistrust and suspicion against them?

While in Cuba the bureaucracy and orthodoxy make life impossible for them, they receive praise from the US, from where they receive offers for loans, training courses and open doors to export and import. Which of the two policies will be the most intelligent and provide the best results?

In Cuba permission to open a cooperative can take years. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
In Cuba permission to open a cooperative can take years. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz


16 thoughts on “An Inclusive Cuba Would Always Be Stronger

  • I cannot agree with you that National Parks are a socialist concept – you give them credit they do not merit.
    Canada has never had a socialist government, but people travel from around the world – including from the US to visit its national parks.

  • Poland and Lithuania are non-communist and part of the EU. The notable difference between communist and democratic governments is that the latter allow open free elections and in consequence it is possible to have representation by the communists. It reflects freedom.

  • An excellent article which I thoroughly concur with. The government really does need to embrace this sector of the economy as they are one of the best defenses for the future independence of the country.

  • Again you need to check your facts. Most of the Asian republics elected communist governments. Also countries like Romania and and Albania did initially. More surprisingly both Poland and Lithuania after a short period of extreme conservative rule, voted back the Communists into power. Even today the Communists have electoral representation in East Germany and Russia.

  • Carlyle: If I wanted to try to persuade the American people to raise their taxes a bit and create some new National Parks, or fund the expansion of the Marine Corps by a couple of divisions, or to get the US back into the space shuttle business — all excellent ideas according to me — I wouldn’t shout that they need more ‘socialism’, even though each of the things I’ve mentioned is a purely socialist measure.

    Words have symbolic power, which often prevent people from thinking rationally about the measures the words are supposed to refer to.

    ‘Capitalism’ and ‘Socialism’ now, after a century and a half of their permutations, variations, and mutations being tried out everywhere on the globe, have powerful positive AND negative connotations for lots of people, completely divorced from whatever it is a person who might use those words may wish to be talking about.

    I suspect any educated person, with a bit of time to prepare, could give very convincing thirty-minute lectures, back to back, entitled “The Evils of Socialism” and “The Evils of Capitalism”, with lots of vivid, terrible, true examples to illustrate both lectures. (Ideologue-pedants at this point should look up the ‘No True Scotsman …’ argument.)

    So, rather than tell the American people that they should have more socialism by expanding the Marine Corps, or the Cuban people that they should reintroduce capitalism by allowing Cubans to start a privately- or co operatively-owned ferry service to the US … we ought to just argue those propositions on their merits.

    People who insist on labels can call more U.S. National Parks and a new Space Shuttle program “Capitalism with American characteristics”, and opening up more scope for non-state actors in the economy in Cuba, “Socialism with Cuban characteristics”, and everyone will be happy.

  • Moses — I don’t think you want to take Chile, and especially not Peru, as possible future models for Cuba. Costa Rica is much more favorable to your case. (Just look at the Wikipedia entry on Peru to see what I mean.)

    In any event, I agree with you, and I would add to your positive assessment of Cuba’s people, its geography (including its proximity to the US, which, military threats aside, is a godsend to a trading nation), its level of health, its relative lack of tribal polarization (despite all the faux concern among American rightists about ‘racism’ in Cuba).

    Cuba has enormous potential, and a lot of it could be unlocked tomorrow by the existing government, without threatening any of the gains and achievements of the Cuban Revolution, or even threatening the jobs of current high-ranking state office holders. (Comrade Bukharin, break off that card game with Marx and Che. I summon your spirit now to advise the leaders of Revolutionary Cuba.)

    In fact, the surge forward in prosperity that would result might even have the effect of increasing the popularity of the government and the ruling party.

    It’s not my personal ideal of a society, but I have always been impressed by how Singapore — which doesn’t rate very highly on the various international scales of civil liberty — by making it easy to run a business on that island, has ended up with a population that has been pretty content to keep the governing party in power for many decades, despite being able to vote for an alternative. (Although I suppose some people — not many Singaporeans — would be unhappy because the system there is a long cry from Cato Institute purity.)

  • I cannot speak with any real authority about Havana as in my years of visiting and then living in Cuba my total time there would not exceed 3 weeks. My knowledge is about what I would describe as real Cuba, away from Havana – does Washington represent the US average community? – and away from the popular tourist resorts. My wife and I have traveled Cuba from the Roncali Lighthouse in the west to Baracoa in the east (1300 km).
    We have stayed in numerous communities and always in casa particulars (B&B) never in hotels. The sole exception being when Cubans were allowed to stay in hotels and several of us went to Varadero for four nights to enable the others as Cubans to experience being allowed to stay in an hotel for the first time in their lives.
    In my visits to Havana and going usually by public transport to the ‘terminus’ in Marianao, I have seen no difference in living standards for the Cubans. There are more tourists each year and the number of Transtur and Gaviota coaches parked along the side of the entrance to the harbour opposite La Cabana where Che Guevara put some 357 people in front of the firing squad between January 12 and the end of June, 1959, is ever increasing. Most of those coaches bring tourists from Varadero to do a short walking tour of Old Havana which has been restored thanks to UNESCO funding – with the much maligned US being the major contributor. The restoration has now extended to the Capitolia building hence my enquiring whether anybody knows if that too is being funded by UNESCO.

  • Carlyle, you have a reason to post on this board whereas I’m a guest, no family nor ever in Cuba. Now through marriage we too are connected but again, not Cuban. Here’s my thought regarding Ravsberg post. I’m an advocate of capitalism however I do support free health care and education. Cuba does a very good job and in fact, if you want to go to college, free BUT you will do time to work that off. I like that! I look at the glass half full, the major cities in Cuba are beginning to get more and more “entrepreneurs” than ever before. Do you or Moses see Havana differently than say four years ago? Thanks Fernando, great one and I always read your writings.

  • Rich, what are you talking about? I may disagree with Ravsberg, but I have never belittled him. As many socialists do, you seem to confuse disagreement with denigrate. If you say I have belittled Ravsberg, show me where.

  • North Korea, Syria and Venezuela are examples of Socialist planning. China and Vietnam have adopted capitalism. Oddly none of the thirteen countries which gained their freedom following the Soviet Empire rotting from within, subsequently elected communist governments.

  • I sometimes agree with Ravsberg but usually don’t. However, my views are clear and honest and any ignorant insults by you don’t alter that. As one living in Cuba my observations are based upon actual day by day experience. I understand that for you, the truth is unpalatable, but be careful you don’t chock swallowing Marx and Lenin.

  • The Moses and Carlyle propaganda machines belittle excellent journalists, such as Fernando Ravsberg, who report fairly on Cuban issues. Moreover, in my opinion, the easily anticipated propaganda from Moses and Carlyle also belittle the otherwise laudable impartiality and worthwhile Cuban-related insights provided by the Havana Times. Distorting or at least attempting to confuse the efforts of skilled professional journalists is, I imagine, what propaganda is all about.

  • Why do you assume that a highly-educated, socially aware people like Cuba would fall victim to the worst examples of capitalism. Why not like Peru or Chile?

  • Carlyle: you must address this question: El Salvador doesn’t have socialist planning. The Dominican Republic doesn’t have it. Nor does Mexico. Or Guatemala. So are you saying to the Cubans, “You should become like those countries! ” ???

    Of course you’re not. But you had better explain how the system you would like to see in Cuba would result in a non-Guatemalan etc outcome. Just what kind of ‘capitalism’ do you want there, and how can the Cubans get a benevolent MacDuffian capitalism (Costa Rica?), rather than a horrible MacBethian El Salvadorean one.

    Otherwise, there will be a lot of Cubans who will prefer to stick with the inefficient but not terribly murderous Devil they Know, than undertake a leap into the political/economic dark that might lead to the Hell of El Salvador, where it’s perhaps easier to go to the mall and buy a flat-screen TV — perhaps paid for in part by the money your children earned selling shoelaces at traffic stops — than it is in Cuba, but also a LOT easier to be murdered for it on your way home.

  • The central dogma for the Castros ‘socialismo’ is to make the State the ultimate authority for the whole of life. It denies the dignity of people. The alternative is the principle of freedom under a rule of law. Freedom allows people to breathe, to take responsibility, to make their own decisions and to determine their own course. To remove peoples freedom, dwarfs the individual, devalues the conscience and demoralizes.
    The only way to relieve poverty is by creating wealth. It is no wonder that under ‘socialismo’ so many simply want to “get out”.
    The Castros communist based beliefs have failed, Cuba is in a mess, the people are in poverty, the infrastructure is crumbling and the country locked in a time warp, falls further and further behind the modern world.
    Only introduction of capitalism can remedy the current plight, it is time to liberate the individuals to utilize their talents energies and abilities. The time has come to abandon the 19th century out-dated dogma. Free the people!

  • Thus, for anyone who follows the topic, it is still clear that the Cuban government does not intend to allow more economic freedom as long as the influx of dollars from Miami, and tourism (now with the help of Obama, and his cronies) are able to increase it. It is a regime that only resorts to half measures in terms of the economy, in order to maintain its grip on power.

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