Cuba’s “Silent Transition” Toward A Free Market Economy

Cuba After CastroCuba is undergoing a “silent transition” from socialism to a mixed economy but the U.S. hasn’t responded with diplomatic initiatives, an authority on Latin American affairs writes.

“A series of economic reforms are shrinking the size of the state-run economy and making room for a greatly expanded private sector,” says Michelle Chase, professor of Latin American history at Bloomfield (N.J.) College.

The reforms are being instituted slowly, however. Roberto Veiga Gonzalez, a progressive Catholic editor of a journal published by the Archdiocese of Havana calls the gradual transition “responsible,” but adds Cubans needs the reforms now because they can’t take the hardship any longer. Cubans are enduring hard times. Many families are already spending 80% of their income just on food.

Writing in the November 7th issue of The Nation magazine, Chase says some in the government want economic reforms modeled after China and Vietnam but others “want Cuba’s reforms to be tailored in a way that would give priority to small, worker-owned cooperatives” that are a kind of “decentralized socialism.”

Whatever the shape of the future, Raul Castro, who promised Cuba would never return to capitalism, appears to be doing just that. A year ago, Chase writes, he directed mass layoffs of government workers to trim a bloated bureaucracy and designated new areas for entrepreneurial expansion.

Since last April, Havana has granted some 330,000 licenses and the newly self-employed, known as cuentapropistas, are now allowed to hire Cubans outside of their own families. “The government’s stated goal,” Chase writes, “is to have nearly half the populace working in the private sector by 2015. For a country where nearly 90 percent of the economy was once in state hands, that will be a major about-face.”

Whereas in 1990, liberal reforms in Cuba were viewed as “a necessary evil” today, Chase explains, “the leadership actually embraces the notion of a robust private sector.” Adds Omar Everleny, a professor at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana, “When you read the Guidelines and Raul’s speeches, you realize he’s determined to change things….he’s made the decision not to turn back.”

A key factor slowing Havana’s reforms “is undoubtedly the U.S. embargo,” Chase writes, as it has “a toxic, distorting effect on internal Cuban politics.” She explains, “Washington’s openly stated goal of destabilization and regime change creates a sense of permanent crisis, a siege mentality, in the leadership. This has long had the effect of limiting internal debate and bolstering hardliners who view any critique as a dangerous prelude to subversion.”

What’s more, by blocking American tourism, for example, “the U.S. government is in effect slowing the growth of Cuba’s private sector” where the government has opened the doors for Cuban businesses to operate.

Reviewing the past few years, Chase writes, it is apparent “a transition of sorts has already happened in Cuba. Raul Castro…and his cohort now openly embrace market reforms and have implemented measures to foster a large private sector….In addition, with the Catholic church serving as intermediary, the government recently released most political prisoners….If there has ever been a time for the US government to acknowledge internal reforms and reciprocate with increased diplomacy, that time is now.”

Americans, however, may have a long wait before Washington turns to diplomacy. The U.S. attitude has long been “do it our way (economically) or else.” Countries, including Cuba, whose rulers tried non-capitalist economic approaches, have been attacked militarily by the U.S. or its surrogates and/or destabilized by the Central Intelligence Agency. At times, the leaders of those countries were assassinated by the CIA.

America’s Founders established a policy of realism in matters of diplomacy. They held governments in power were governments the U.S. would recognize because we needed to treat with them, whether we liked them or not. Modern presidents trampled this common-sense approach for years by not recognizing Soviet Russia and Communist China. And they are still withholding it from Cuba.

Sherwood RossThe authors of the Constitution might well be appalled if they knew the CIA backed the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, tried to poison the Cuban sugar crop and wreak other calamities on the country, and made at least eight attempts on the life of Fidel Castro.

With Fidel out of power and his more rational brother in charge, now is the time for the U.S. to open talks leading to improved U.S. relations with Cuba, as well as full liberties and economic opportunities for the Cuban people.

Sherwood Ross

October 29, 2011


  1. Tyrannus Evisceratus says

    We should keep the sanctions on until Castro is rotting in the dirt like the diseased dog he is.

  2. linda krausen says

    Sir: For journalistic integrity you really should have said ” with Fidel out of power and his– what I believe to be–more rational brother….” because, knowing where and what Cuba was when Fidel studied the situation and then “took to the hills”, the invasion and destruction by Fidel of that corrupt and craven morally disgusting society that Cuba had been turned into,by the moneyed extravagant and corrupt elements of the United States, Fidel’s ability to lead the country to a collective survival through terribly harse times brought on this tiny economy by the huge and powerful collosis to the north, and abandonment by difficult friends such as the Soviet Union, has been the epitome of rational thinking and planning. Cuba has an educated population, their medical care is complete and sought after internationally. I’ve been to Cuba and the intrusion now of profit and the privatization of public services, in the face that tactic ‘s abismal failure to deal fairly with all people and not just the moneyed class, is actually what is irrational, incomprehensible and ahistorical behavior on the part of Raul and whoever else is advising him towards in this new stage in Cuba, which hopefully does not erase Cuba’s accomplisments since 1959, and turn Cuba into what it was before. Improved relations with the United States are only relations in which the United States ignores Cuba in every way, for the only relation the US wants from Cuba, is one in which it can make a profit off Cuba- only rational to the corporate mentality.

  3. George says

    Neither Cuba nor the US has a perfect economic system. It’s great to see Cuba opening up to some free enterprise, and it would be great to see the US opening up to the value of government. Now that Cuba is embracing a pragmatic approach, the end of the US trade embargo is way overdue. Let a billion transactions grow.

  4. -Nate says

    I think letting Raul give it a go is the correct thing to do : either we’re supportive of open society or we’re not .

    communism never works anywhere , ever in history , it only creates poverty and Human misery so let’s help it die , we needn’t send any U.S. $ aid to Cuba , just let them try to pay their way .


  5. T says

    I disagree with you on numerous points and believe you are simply wrong about America’s founders. From the beginning Washington, Adams Jefferson and Franklin among others openly stated they wanted to create an empire that encompassed the entire hemisphere one in which other people’s would be incorporated without their consent. As to your statement about the country’s founders being a pragmatic bunch, with a live and let live attitude this also is not true either. Beginning with Washington, the United States maintained a hostile attitude towards any nation in the hemisphere that sought to pursue interests in favor of their own populations especially if those goals conflicted with the interests of America’s eiltes. Under Washington the US provided over $700,000 ( a huge sum for the time) to help French planters unsuccessfully suppress the attempts of Haitian slaves enjoy the rights of liberty and equality and after the success of the Haitian Revolution joined with the rest of Europe to blockade the island nation. Those of us who consider ourselves progressive need to work towards making the US a more democratic nation that respects the rights of others to self determination instead of hoping everyone else become more like us. Unfortunately despite the claims, we here in the US just as was the case with past and future empires are not the enlightened center of the world.

    • T says

      First lets get rid of the euphemisms. there is nothing free about a “free” market economy and secondly as is the case of the US, this so called free market system is not very good at distributing essentials such as healthcare, fair wages or political access other than to those who have the money to buy it.

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