Discussion Opens at the ASCE conference in Miami
Vincent Morin Aguado
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.