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Reply to Globe and Mail Editorial
"A New, Risky Cuban Revolution"

Isaac Saney

To: Editors, The Globe and Mail

Re: Your editorial "A new, risky Cuban revolution" (September 20).

The announcement of the new Cuban economic measures did not come as a surprise to any serious journalist or observer. In July 2007 a nation-wide consultation and debate (a frequent practice in Cuba) was initiated on the Cuban economy. The planned restructuring of the state sector has been discussed by all the trade unions and mass organizations, in the newspapers, on radio and television. Workers have themselves decided that the measures are necessary to strengthen Cuba's economy upon which they depend for their living, and how they will be implemented. A substantial number of the 500,000 affected workers are to be absorbed into the non-state sector while a considerable number are being offered alternative state employment opportunities. Many will continue in their current jobs either working for themselves or in cooperatives.

This is not the shock therapy used in eastern Europe or demanded by the World Bank and IMF in developing countries. The new arrangements are being phased in and no one is being abandoned or left to fend for themselves. All the social guarantees remain in force. The aim of the restructuring is to strengthen social programs, not privatize nor dismantle, them. This includes universal free health care and education, subsidized utilities, a subsidized food ration and controlled prices; mortgage payments pegged at 10 percent of the highest income earned in the household (more than 80% of Cubans own their own homes).

For any country to try to overcome the worldwide economic crisis in a manner that favours its people, not the global monopolies, would be no small feat. This is all the more true for a country like Cuba which is subjected to a brutal all-sided commercial, trade and financial embargo from the United States, with extra territorial consequences which even affect Canadian businesses which trade or would like to trade with Cuba.

Many Canadians admire the Cuban people's unrelenting defence of their sovereignty in the face of tremendous odds. The changes your editorial misrepresents may be new, but they are not risky in the sense that the Cubans are not gamblers. They closed down all the mafia-run casinos more than 50 years ago and ended that regime, which permitted the impoverishment of the majority of the people and the corruption of all of Cuban life.

If measures which defend this are a risk, we can confidently say that for fifty years the Cubans have shown themselves capable of meeting the challenges they take up.

Isaac Saney
Spokesperson, Canadian Network On Cuba
Faculty member, College of Continuing Education, Dalhousie University & Department of History, Saint Mary's University
Tel.: 902-494-1531 (office)

* * *

A new, risky Cuban revolution - Globe and Mail Editorial, September 20, 2010

The Cuban government’s surprise announcement this week that it is laying off 500,000 state employees – about 10 per cent of the state sector – shows the desperate state of the economy. Free-market reforms are long overdue in the Caribbean island, one of the last bastions of Soviet-style Communism. But to expect state employees, especially the least enterprising, to succeed in the private sector is politically risky.

By 2011, the government will lay off workers from every government sector, selecting those who are least productive. These workers will then be expected to form private co-operatives, find jobs at foreign-run companies or set up their own small businesses. The government helpfully suggests a list of possibilities, including raising rabbits, making bricks, driving a taxi and organizing parties. Cubans who are not made redundant will face a new salary structure that rewards productivity.

This is the most significant economic shift since the 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union forced Cuba to legalize use of the U.S. dollar, and allow people to operate restaurants in their homes, initiatives that were scaled back once the economy improved.

This development, however, appears to be longer-term. It will allow the government to rid itself of unproductive workers, and indicates that Cuba is ready to move in the direction of a more “marketized economy,” says Arch Ritter, an expert on the Cuban economy at Carleton University. “Once people aren’t reliant on the goodwill of the state, they are much less manageable. So there is a political risk,” he adds.

Cubans will still be entitled to a few months of unemployment benefits, as well as subsidized housing expenses and free education and health care.

While the government of President Raul Castro made the announcements, his older brother Fidel appeared to agree, recently telling an American journalist that the “Cuban economy doesn’t work.” Mr. Castro later said he had been misinterpreted, but the comment could also be read as tacit support for Raul’s reforms.

An internal government document acknowledges the difficulty of this strategic transition, noting many businesses won’t last because Cubans lack experience, drive and initiative to succeed in the private sector.

While the Cuban government doesn’t appear to have a strategy to help them make the transition, some Cubans may adapt more quickly than predicted. For years, Cubans have been forced to supplement their meagre state earnings and insufficient food rations by reselling stolen products on the black market – everything from cigars and cement to second-hand clothing. They already make exceptionally good capitalists.

Cuba is still far from fully embracing the free market to the extent that China and Vietnam have. But these reforms are a welcome first step.

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