The Potential Success of the Reform Process in Cuba

Discussion Opens at the ASCE conference in Miami

Vincent Morin Aguado

Joaquin Pujol and Vicente Morin at the ASCE Conference in Miami.

HAVANA TIMES — An analysis about the possible success or failure of the reform process taking place in Cuba was the focus of discussions during the first plenary session of the XXIV Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE). The three-day event, which began on Thursday at the Hilton Miami Downtown, was attended by hundreds of industry professionals, including many Cubans from both shores of the Straits of Florida.

In his presentation titled “The uncertainty of the changes in Cuba”, Joaquin Pujol, a retired IMF official, offered a detailed analysis of recent agricultural measures adopted by the government of Raul Castro in response to the decrease of the main production indicators for sugar, coffee, milk, beef and the cattle among others.

He noted the limitations imposed on farmers – both those in cooperatives and those benefited individually through land distribution – by the low prices paid by the still existing state purchasing monopoly [on many basic crops and livestock] along with the arbitrary actions of the bureaucrats who make the decisions in this key area of the national economy.

Of special interest was the analysis of Professor Rolando Castañeda, a retired official of the Inter-American Development Bank, who noted the incongruous design of productive activities and services in Cuba. Professor Castañeda’s presentation included a review of three other attempts at reform carried out over more than 30 years, the first at the beginning of the eighties, when former president Fidel Castro applied the Soviet model, later limiting still further the role of the market.

The next limited reforms came in 1993, with the opening of the agricultural markets and some other self-employed activities. However before advancing significantly a backtracking took place regarding private initiative. The dual monetary system also took shape.

Changes appeared again recently, but also limited in scope, “slow and partial,” under the Communist Party program called “the guidelines”. Professor Castañeda concluded his presentation by stating: “With such come and go, without a will to resolutely advance on the path initiated, it’s logical that we see null results in terms of predicted growth, especially when considering the weakness of the national economy and its vulnerability to external factors since the reforms began.”

A nice epilogue to Thursday’s panels at the ASCE Conference was the one comprised of five self-employed Cubans, owners of recently started small businesses, such as a soap factory from natural raw materials, two restaurants, a beauty salon and a company dedicated to the decoration of social events.

The period of questions and answers included the participation of entrepreneurs Ángel Carlos Fanjul and Saladrigas, both known for their business successes within the Miami community, and for their unprejudiced approach to today’s Cuban reality, looking to build bridges across the gulf stream that still seems to separate us when the times are pressing for collaboration among all Cubans wherever they live.

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6 thoughts on “The Potential Success of the Reform Process in Cuba

  • Cuba’s agriculture and agricultural policies can best be described as abysmal. The arrival of a small volume of potatoes at the market results in huge line-ups of would be consumers. But Cuba’s agriculture is incapable of responding to the needs of the marketplace by increasing production. The regime promotes the supposed success of the “urban agriculture” policy to foreign socialist sympathisers but it in reality is a low production level stop gap and does not answer the market need for higher volume.
    The socialist sympathiser types attack the critics of the Castro regime but fail to comprehend that criticism is easy when the policies are frankly silly reflecting the ignorance and incompetence of those in power.
    Murillo Jorge as an economist will repeatedly produce and demonstrate tables recording intended production all of which inevitably are highly optimistic. Socialism is all about such planning without recognition of reality – and in the real world leads to productive and financial failure. It’s that simple!

    Reply
    • Socialists make plans and then as the deadline for the actualization of the plan approaches they adjust the plan to better match the impending reality. If reality somehow manages to exceed the plan (seldom), then socialism gets the credit. More likely, when reality falls short of the plan, socialists are quick to blame something (or someone) other than the plan for the failure. The Castros have always relied on three things to explain away their failures. (1) the embargo (2) the weather (3) the Cuban people.

      Reply
      • Perhaps and sadly, the article sums up the tragedy of Cuba with one word in the heading:
        “Potential”
        When in Cuba I am constantly frustrated by the wasteful neglect of both the country and its people. Fifty five years of degeneration under the controls of socialist dictatorship.

        Reply
  • Some statistics about Cuba agriculture:
    – independent farmers had 1/3 of the land and produced 2/3 of the output making them 4 timed more effective than state farms and “coops”
    – before the latest reforms the estimate was that 50% of farmland in Cuba was not used, today one estimates about 30% but with lots of land in government hands being used for growing marabu to make charcoal for export
    – since the latest reform – the handing out of land in to “new” farmers production overall of foodstuffs has declined
    – Cuba went from a rich exporter of food to a “food deficient” country that has imported up to 80% of food consumed on the island.

    Reply
    • Anyone who drives out of Havana for even a few kilometers can clearly see that these statistics are a gross overestimation. The land is barren covered with green, but you can clearly see it is untended. The reality is that the Cuban weather, being humid and sunny for most of the year, provides plants and excellent environment to grow and prosper, but it seems that the Cuban government doesn’t seem to understand this. If you can grow anything, why don’t you? If the people would stop looking for nonexistent opportunities in Havana and start to develop the neighboring areas, then the people would have enough food to survive. I’m not stating this as a quick fix, but the Cuban people need to be educated about their land and what they can do with it in order to live not for Cuba, not for socialism, but simply for the earth. Cuba is unfortunately one of the nations with the most potential in existence. There is public health and free education, but that is not enough when the quality of that health and education come into question. Though the healthcare system is one of the best in the world (ie. the yearly death toll is very low) that doesn’t exclude the fact that there are huge gaps in the educational system that did not exist in previous years. If the people knew what they are capable of, they could live in the Cuba that I one day hope to live in. Where no one is to blame, and everyone prospers.

      Reply
      • Don’t believe the official statistic on healthcare in Cuba. The system is in a terrible condition, with most hospitals & clinics short of star & supplies. Only the top elite in Cuba have access to first rate healthcare.

        Reply

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