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    Cuba: An Economy Does Not Rise Selling Croquettes

    Cuba: An Economy Does Not Rise Selling Croquettes / Ivan Garcia #Cuba

    Ivan Garcia, Translator: mlk

    Some years ago, when the Politburo headed by General Raul Castro was

    studying alternative ways to apply reforms capable of reactivating the

    moribund island economy, Marino Murillo, fattened ex-colonel converted

    to the "czar of transformations" said that Cuba was gambling by using

    unproven methods in its transformations. It is not bad to think for

    yourself.

    The only thing that the proposal from the same group pompously in power

    for five decades has demonstrated is the failure of its management. I do

    not call into question the capability of Cuban economists and

    technocrats. Although their pioneering theories have never resulted or

    drawn attention in western academies or on a jury for the Nobel Prize,

    audacity and experimentation are preferable to the habitual inertia in

    closed and totalitarian systems.

    Something had to be done. The economy had fallen by some35% of GDP, if

    we compare it with 1989. After crossing a desert, where the mission was

    to survive, with thousands of people desiring to emigrate, sparse and

    very bad food, 12-hour power outages and factories turned into museums

    of idle machinery, Fidel Castro applied some of the advice that Carlos

    Solchaga — sent urgently by the Spanish president Felipe Gonzalez in

    order to advise tepid reforms on the island — whispered in his ear.

    The patches permitted opening some individual work initiatives and

    pockets of mixed economy. It was a stream of oxygen. Always with a lone

    scowling commander watching the car's advance. When in Caracas there

    appeared a loquacious anti-Yankee skydiver, declaimer of poems and

    singer of Venezuelan dance tunes, Fidel Castro understood that the era

    of facing those insolent gringos was back.

    With high taxes, he locked and blocked the work on his own account. He

    no longer needed that legion of "hucksters." People who demonstrated

    that they could live better without the shelter of the State. While the

    licenses of the self-employed expired, Castro I resumed the discourse of

    Father State, he unsheathed the saber and anti-imperialist oratory.

    Thanks to the Venezuelan Santa Claus there was light.

    The bearded one was thinking big. Economic alliances with Latin American

    insurgents that only worked in theory, energetic plans for revolution

    and discussions about the properties of chocolate bars and baby cereal.

    Suddenly he got sick. Cuba is like a family farm: after me, my brother.

    Decided beforehand, it fell to Raul Castro to administer. So it was.

    Castro II has his rules. He knows that in order to govern a long time or

    to cede the dynasty to a son, relative or other trusted person, he

    needed to ignite the economic plan. He had to make changes.

    When one decides to make economic reforms, one must make them. For one

    overwhelming reason: if the parallel utopia keeps living on news loaded

    with optimism, inflated macro-economic figures and cheap nationalism,

    the citizenry might lose fear and furiously explode on the streets.

    The General's theory resumes the popular refrain of "full belly, content

    heart." For the official technocrats, the Cuban is happy with rum,

    women, reggaeton and hot food in the pot, as if we were modern slaves.

    With enough food and options for making money, the crowd would ignore

    that "foolishness about human rights" and not demand democracy or a

    multi-party system. That is why the sacred premise of Raul Castro is

    "beans are more important than cannons."

    The native reforms suffer from authentic reformers. It's the same breed.

    Another weak point is the incompleteness of those reforms. Except for

    the authorization to buy or sell a home, where an owner has the right to

    do what he wants with his property, the other hyped liberalizations have

    flaws. It is like a house over a swamp.

    When Castro II gave the green light for Cubans to have mobile

    telephones, he wanted to demonstrate that the regime was "democratic."

    And he did away with "tourism apartheid" when he permitted citizens to

    lodge in hotels. On eliminating the two prohibitions, it was discovered

    that under the command of Fidel Castro we had been third class citizens.

    The Lease Law of the land has suffered several amendments in four years.

    At the beginning land was rented for only ten years and the peasant had

    no right to construct his home on the parcel. Later it was corrected. I

    ask myself if it would not have been more viable to start from the

    beginning with the option of renting the land for 99 years and license

    to raise a house.

    So it happens with the sale of cars. One can buy an old American car 40

    or 50 years of age or a ramshackle car from the Soviet era. Now in order

    to get oneat an agency requires permission from the State. It would be

    simpler if anyone, money in hand, could buy a new car. It would end

    price speculation and the framework of corruption that has been created

    around the sale of cars.

    Immigration reform also has deficiencies. To have to pay for a passport

    in foreign currency is an anomaly. And an absurd law that the regime

    grants itself, by maintaining a blacklist of professionals, athletes and

    dissidents.

    Another big problem, not approached by the General's reforms, is the

    double currency. It has been talked about and debated, but the first

    thing that should have been done is to implement a single currency.

    Cuban workers pay the equivalent of 52 pesos for a liter of oil, 235

    pesos for a kilo of Gouda cheese and from 360 to 1,200 pesos for a pair

    of jeans. And they may only earn an average salary of 450 pesos. The

    honorable worker, who does not steal on the job, lives the worst.

    The government says that in order to raise salaries productivity must

    increase. But the workers think that for so little money, it is not

    worth the effort to labor with quality and efficacy. A vicious cycle

    that the regime has not learned or wanted to cut. In four years of

    reforms and six of Raul Castro's government, ostensible improvements in

    the country are unseen. Cafes and trinkets have increased. More than 380

    thousand people work on their own account and do not depend on the State

    to raise their quality of life. That is something good.

    But an integrated economy is not built selling bread and cakes. In great

    measure, the government is to blame for the high prices of many

    products,by not creating a wholesale market intended for private work

    and maintaining quotas of 80% of agricultural production that a farmer

    must sell at laughable prices to the State.

    In 2006, when Castro II was designated President, a pizza cost 7 pesos,

    now the cheapest costs 12. A haircut was worth 10 pesos, now it is worth

    20. The list is long. In this rainy fall of 2012, the price of each

    article and service is higher. Salaries have stayed the same for six years.

    There is a crunch in the pockets. The segment of the population that

    receives hard currency can keep paying for food and products of a

    certain quality. But their money continues to lose value. 100 dollars in

    2004 are worth 60 currently. Due to the 13% state tax on the dollar and

    the rising prices, currency in the hands of those who receive

    remittances has devalued.

    Nor do people have much confidence in the reform managers. They are the

    same ones who in one way or another brought the country to the edge of

    the precipice. Cuba needs reforms. Serious, urgent and profound reforms.

    According to Mart Laar, who was prime minister of Estonia and was at the

    head of structural reforms in the '90's, the simpler the reforms, the

    more successful they will be. Laar points out that in politics there is

    only one sure thing: sooner or later you will be out of power. If fear

    of reforming deeply is too great, you will leave sooner. And most

    importantly, you will be out without have done anything.

    These are not hollow words. Estonia is one of the nations that took a

    giant leap, from a communist economy adrift to a functional national

    project. Another case is Taiwan, where their own citizens initiated

    changes knowing that they would lose power. Now they have returned it to

    the government with a fresh start.

    It is good think for yourself. But also you should learn from those

    nations that have triumphed in their reform processes. It is worth it to

    take account of experience. And logic.

    Translated by mlk

    December 1 2012

    http://translatingcuba.com/cuba-an-economy-does-not-rise-selling-croquettes-ivan-garcia-cuba/

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