Fernando Ravsberg*

A great many State cafeterias are empty and have no products to offer the public.

HAVANA TIMES — The slow implementation of economic reforms in Cuba is justified with the argument that the government does not want to make any mistakes. Every step taken is allegedly preceded by a pilot test used to evaluate the consequences of the change.

This is doubtless a new way of doing things in the country, in which concrete results matter more than inspiration. Many Cubans, however, have grown impatient, because the waiting period is sometimes longer than what they deem necessary.

The food service business is a case in point. It is clear to all Cubans that State cafeterias and restaurants are, generally speaking, disastrous and that the private sector is the one offering the best services today.

But the process of putting this sector in the hands of cooperatives and the self-employed is advancing at a snail’s pace, despite the fact that anyone who walks by a State cafeteria can see the poor quality of the menu themselves, in the event the establishment sells something other than cigarettes and rum.

In my neighborhood, there’s a cafeteria that people have been referring to as the “flies palace” for years, owing to the number of these insects that inhabit it. Curiously, the inspectors who monitor the self-employed so rigorously have never set foot there.

The self-employed have managed to offer better services in the catering business.

I have a friend who set up a very successful cafeteria in the Havana town of Guanabacoa who has been waiting for years to rent one of the most dilapidated facilities in the area from the State, in order to transform it into a prosperous business.

It’s clear that much of the prosperity of these private businesses is owed to the fact supplies are bought at low prices in the black market, which gets its stocks from State warehouses, the products that State cafeterias should be serving.

It’s like a dog chasing after its own tail. This happens, in part, because the government still refuses to create wholesale markets with preferential prices for the self-employed and cooperatives, the kind that exist everywhere in the world.

According to some Cuban economists, these markets, in addition to giving the self-employed advantages, would make the State more efficient in terms of tax collection, as having control over supplies would allow it to calculate what a business’s actual profits are.

What’s certain is that the slowness and indecision that characterizes the application of these policies prevents the self-employed from growing in numbers and limits the State in terms of laying off superfluous personnel at its institutions and ministries.

If the country’s economic plan for the future is to have half or more of the population in non- State jobs (as self-employed, cooperatives or farmers), the government should act in a more determined, coherent and global manner.

A raise in the salaries of teachers depends, in good measure, on the growth of the non-State sector.

The logical course of action upon detecting some form of stagnation should be for authorities to offer greater facilities that will attract new workers to the non-State sector: wholesale markets, tax breaks, bank credits, a greater range of supplies and access to machinery and tools.

A change in mentality is also needed. Cuba must put behind it the economic Stalinism inherited from the Soviet Union, which condemned all private initiative, and move forward towards a range of forms of property than even Marx and Lenin thought compatible with socialism.

Even today, whenever the press or some leaders speak of corruption, they mention only the private sector, all the while concealing the constant destitution of corrupt managers at “socialist State companies.”

The fact of the matter is that the growth of the self-employed sector and cooperatives would increase the incomes of many Cubans, reduce State payrolls and fill the nation’s coffers with tax payments.

This “virtuous circle” could afford the government the financial surplus needed to raise salaries in such indispensable sectors as education, where salaries are still well below the income required to meet basic needs.

Photos: Raquel Perez

11 thoughts on “The “Virtuous Circle” of Cuba’s Reforms

  • When you control an entire country the way the Castros control Cuba, there is no real need to acquire wealth. In effect, Fidel’s wallet is the Cuban treasury. Is there a creature comfort that Fidel or Raul could desire or imagine that would not be delivered to their doorstep? They have wisely managed to avoid that stereotypical expression of wealth historically displayed by dictators cut from the same cloth. No gilded palaces for the Castros. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that they have not failed to enjoy every minute of the pillaging they have wrought on the Cuban people.

  • The US has much less influence in the internal politics of most Latin American countries. So what? When we had more influence it was more of a burden than a benefit. Now we are no longer asked to make loans that are not repaid and resolve internal political differences between different versions of the same tyranny. At the end of the day, everyone in Venezuela who wants and can afford to buy an iPhone 6 will continue to do so. Pitbull, the Miami-based hip-hop megastar, will still sell out concerts throughout Latin America and the Dallas Cowboys merchandise is still the second hottest-selling sports item (#1 Barcelona) in Mexico and Central America. Many times, anti-US commenters parrot comments without really understanding the comment itself. The US loss of political influence in the region has meant very little in the lives of Americans. In the long-term it may likely be a good thing. Watching Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil endure their political growing pains from a distance is less costly to American taxpayers. Moreover, as Cuba continues to circle the drain economically, these recently emerged Latin American organizations will be called to task. Will they, as the EU did for Greece and Portugal, step up to assist Cuba or as the collective of Latin American countries done in the past, stand by and do nothing?Time will tell.

  • Come come ronrobel777. Are you really suggesting that the US military should be enabled to enter the commercial world and control 80% of the US economy? As is the position in Cuba!
    I found your very careful statement that Fidel’s sons are not involved in politics somewhat entertaining. Fidel was nothing if not prolific in his relationships with mistresses and wives.
    His first wife was Mista Diaz-Balort Gutierrez with whom he had FIdel
    His second wife was Dalia Soto del Valle with whom he had:
    There was an un-named mistress by whom he had:
    Jorge Alain
    Way back in 1953 he had Francisca Pupo – as the result of an overnight affair
    Then as the result of an affair with Natalia Revuelta Clews there was:
    But although you indicated that none of these multiple offspring
    became involved in politics, you studiously avoided President Raul Castro Ruz’s family. That is where the power lies!
    You admire the fact that GAESA controls 80% of Cuba’s economy, who controls GAESA? Why none other than General Luis Alberta Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas son-in-law of Raul, being married to Deborah Castro Espin, Raul’s daughter. Who controls the Intelligence Service? Why none other than Alejandro Castro Espin, Raul’s son who is also a member of the Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and within the past year met with the Russian Intelligence Service in Moscow. Where does Alejandro Castro Espin get his power? Why through the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution. What is the purpose of the CDR? When formed by Fidel Castro Ruz on September 28, 1960, he said that the purpose was:
    “so that everybody knows who lives on every block, what they do on every block, what relations they had with the tyranny (previous governments of Cuba) in what activities are they involved and with whom they meet.”
    CDR officials monitor the activities of every person on their block. The State keeps an individual file on each resident some of which reveal the internal dynamics of each household.
    By chance, I happened to have sight of the file on my wife – it was four pages long and not only contained a photograph of her, but also the date of our marriage.
    And, you in your innocence of the reality of Cuba and the power of the Castro family dictatorship regime think that their role will be much reduced when BIG and little brothers leave the scene?

  • The military industrial complex in the US controls much of our economy and produces weapons of war. At least in the case of Cuba the military is involved in business enterprises similar to the military in Turkey and Indonesia to cite two examples. The role of the Castro family will be much reduced once the brothers leave the scene. Fidel’s sons are not involved in politics. It should be noted that Cuba now has excellent relations with most Latin American countries and is a member of new organizations which reject the US embargo. Because of this the OAS no longer has influence in Latin America. Until the US ends the embargo it will become more and more irrelevant in Latin America as the other countries form their own organizations all of which include Cuba. Under the Bush administration plans were being made on how to end the chaos coming to Cuba once Fidel relinquished power. However the transition has proceeded smoothly and our Cuba experts have only excuses as a response.

  • RAFIN SA (Raul & Fidel) paid $709 miillion for the Italian owned 27% of ETECSA.
    I agree that unfortunately neither of the brothers will go into exile. The Castro family regime will continue to control the economy through General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas CEO of GAESA the holding company for the Cuban Defense Ministry which currently controls 80% of Cuba’s economy. It will control Cuba’s Intelligence Service (much of the internal intelligence being derived from the CDR system) through Alejandro Castro Espin. They are respectively the son-in-law and son of Raul Castro Ruz. Diaz-Canel as President appointed by Raul Castro Ruz and Murilla and Rodriguez as hencemen, will be political puppets serving as a face for the Castro family regime which will retain el poder (the power). It is power not palaces that the Castro Ruz brothers covet. Whereas they have wisely kept their personal waelth in Cuba, they endeavored to extend their power by military activity in 13 other countries.
    Under their dictatorship the Castro Ruz family cannot be guilty of corruption – for them, it is entitlement. It is all other Cubans who are eligible for charges of corruption be their political masters.
    Regarding Dr. Ernesto Guevara, I have written elsewhere in these columns that he was a genuine revolutionary. He could coldly execute prisoners without trial by the hundred, and as a medical doctor insisted on examinig the brain of the first person he personally shot to see the effects of the bullet.(In the Sierra Maestra). It is my view that he would have deplored that ridiculous mausoleum that Fidel Castro Ruz had constructed at Santa Clara, preferring that the money be spent on the people. When it came to his own execution he accepted it without struggle as the price of being a revolutionary.

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