Published on April 23, 2011
by Staff Reporter
Fear of doing too much too soon and losing the grip on power has led
Cuban leadership to stick to Plan A -- continue with business as usual
while dipping toes into the unfamiliar waters of a market economy.
Hopes of younger Communist Party adherents joining the ranks of the
ruling elite ended when the first party congress since 1971 this week
made official President Raul Castro's elevation as the new first
secretary, succeeding elder brother Fidel, 84.
The party also gave the go-ahead for 500,000 government workers to look
elsewhere for earnings, a politically charged move sweetened by a much
publicized encouragement to self-starters, entrepreneurs and would-be
property tycoons. All Cubans can now buy or sell homes, albeit under
strict conditions and set up shops and businesses.
That left Cuba as the world's last stronghold of communism, of a sort,
after Albania broke ranks and began experimenting with capitalism,
taking cash from the European Union in return for advice on much needed
Raul Castro, 79, heralded the reforms, warning Cubans to get ready for
tougher times. Party newspaper Granma said ways of "working miracles are
In all 300 reforms were cited in the package laid before the congress
but none that veered away from entrenched central planning.
Food and fuel will become more expensive, subsidies will gradually
disappear and small and tentative steps will guide Cubans toward what
might eventually be recognizable as a market economy with a private
sector set for slow but certain growth.
The economic reforms package left unanswered major questions on
political transition and easing of curbs on dissent and the media in
preparation for developing a democratic infrastructure, a problem seen
behind troubles in recently "liberated" societies such as Egypt and Tunisia.
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In addition to routine muzzling of dissent, Human Rights Watch and
international human rights organizations have accused the two Castros
administrations of systematic abuses, including torture, arbitrary
imprisonment, unfair trials and extrajudicial execution.
Although Cuba relaxed curbs on religious expression it retains tight
control on religious institutions and affiliated groups. Partly due to
the U.S. embargo, Internet access remains limited, expensive and largely
restricted to hotels frequented by foreign tourists.
The embargo began in 1960 after Cuba nationalized U.S. properties and
toughened in February, 1962. Although it formally orders the most
enduring trade embargo in modern history, the United States is the fifth
largest exporter to Cuba.
On Sept. 2, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama extended the embargo to
Sept. 14, 2011, determining it to be in the national interest of the
An April 2009 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll indicated 64 percent
of Americans surveyed backed the lifting of the U.S. travel ban on Cuba
and 71 percent supported a re-establishment of diplomatic relations.
Cuba's reforms could sway more Americans toward the island, which
expects its economy to grow 3.1 percent in 2011, up from 2.1 percent in
At the same time, analysts said, the slow pace of reforms would likely
encourage a larger informal sector to grow before a new market economy
could begin to take shape.
Fledgling capitalist Albania still has 50 percent of its economy in the
unreported and unregulated sector -- the black economy, independent
European data showed.
Corporate and public sector corruption, organized crime and huge income
disparities are rife, the data indicated.
That's a phase that Cuba, too, may go through before it recasts itself
as a quasi-capitalist economy, analysts said.