Although Raúl Castro promises to remain faithful to the ideals of the revolution after de facto succession of his brother Fidel, he has publicly acknowledged that Cuba’s socialism does not work. For one, the collectivist system created through farm land expropriations is crumbling in the face of the global food crisis. In order to increase production, the government is turning to market approaches: it shifted control of farms from Havana to local councils and granted private farmers the right to till plots of up to 99 acres of unused government land.
While the economic transformation may just be getting started on the farms, it’s well under way in the cities where entrepreneurs – inhibited by the lack of legal opportunities to conduct business – fuel the growth of the informal sector. From house-based restaurants and unofficial tourist room rentals to unregistered gyms, vast numbers of Cubans operate “por la izquierda” – “on the left” of the law. Christian Science Monitor comments:
Such gray-market microenterprises exemplify a spirit of dynamism and creativity straining to be fully unleashed, say some observers of Cuba. The question of the day: Is Raúl Castro about to release it? (…) Raúl’s reputation as a pragmatist is unfurling expectations here that the era of asceticism and austerity is coming to a close. Major agricultural reforms have been unveiled. And [he seems] to be preparing the populace for an economic shift. “Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of opportunities, not of income,” Raúl said on July 11 while addressing Cuba’s rubber-stamp parliament in its first session since he replaced Fidel. “Equality is not egalitarianism.”
That’s quite a change of rhetoric for the Cuban leadership. The introduction of market incentives in farming combined with the recent liberalization of access to cell phones, DVD players, and computers raises questions about how far the government is willing to go. Easing the registration procedures for small businesses and lowering the prohibitive burden of high taxes could be just the boost that Cuban economy desperately needs – and a proof of the growing open-mindedness of the regime. Ordinary citizens certainly seem ready for the change and question why entrepreneurial activities that are encouraged and rewarded in most countries are forbidden here. The CSM article quotes one such informal entrepreneur, “In the future, the economy will open up. It has to. The people have a limit.”