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Cuba is already a changed society

Cuba is already a changed society
By Bill Hume / Richardson Center For Global Engagement
PUBLISHED: Sunday, July 12, 2015 at 12:02 am

The Cuba of today, increasingly in the minds of Americans as a result of
President Obama’s historic move to normalization, is no longer your
father’s Cuba of Fidel Castro.

It is not the free enterprise democracy of the American ideal either.
But, it is much closer to the latter than is generally understood in
this country.

Raul Castro, upon assuming the presidency of Cuba, declared he would
continue the policies of his brother Fidel. But, he set in motion a
process for sweeping change — the fruits of which are apparent in the
increasingly privatized and diversified Cuban economy.

A group of young professionals recently returned from a week of meetings
in Cuba, in a visit co-sponsored by The Aspen Institute and The
Richardson Center for Global Engagement. The goal was to establish
people-to-people contacts and to seek ways to improve communication and
understanding between Cubans and Americans.

“We have been changing since 1993 — not since we are friends with the
Americans but since the fall of the Soviet Union,” said one workshop
commentator.

The group was told of the recent economic history of Cuba by Rafael
Betancourt, consulting economist and professor at the University of
Havana. He made clear that Cuba had started privatizing its economy many
years ago.

Betancourt described Raul Castro’s “Roadmap to Reform.” Prominent in the
reforms were mechanisms for ceding control of economic enterprises to
worker-governed cooperatives and allowing individually owned private
enterprises. Heretofore, the government controlled virtually all
production enterprises — but in a myriad of individual state-run
entities, not as a single government colossus.

The CoOp Movement was initially big in the agriculture sector, where by
2012, 84 percent of food production was coming from worker-managed co-ops.

Betancourt reported that in 2009, 83 percent of employed Cubans worked
for the government; by 2013, it had dropped to 73.8 percent. Private
payrolls employed 11.7 percent of working Cubans in 2009; by 2013 it had
increased to 21.6 percent.

Those trends continued and accelerated in 2014 and this year. Private
enterprise workers — even waiters in the private restaurants — generally
make more than professionals on the government’s payroll.

Clearly the Cuban private sector has a momentum that will not be turned
back.

A 2014 foreign investment law opened all sectors of the economy to
international participation, but the U.S. embargo makes it an extremely
risky proposition.

Cubans privately own 85 percent of the homes, and they are free to buy
and sell them. Significant segments of the workforce already have
regular access to the Internet, with planning proceeding on how to
extend it to all households in Cuba.

“After 50 years of revolution we have not been able to produce an equal
society — and I don’t know if we ever will,” Betancourt observed. But
clearly, concern for the less fortunate will remain a dominant policy.

The Aspen Institute-Richardson Center professionals came away with a
sense that the Cuban people are a proud and patriotic people.

While one might get the sense that many younger Cubans found the
revolutionary fervor of 50 years ago to be somewhat passé, there was no
apparent frustration with government restrictions or policies. While
there was real enthusiasm about the possibility of closer
people-to-people relations with the United States, Cubans tend to
approach the change on their terms, rather than as recipients of some
favor from the United States.

But a dominant reality for Americans to recognize is that Cuba is on the
move, economically, socially, artistically, and in participation in the
world community.

American policymakers need to come to grips with this and make the
adjustments necessary to allow the full potential of U.S.-Cuba relations
to bloom.

Bill Hume is a former Journal editorial page editor.

Source: Cuba is already a changed society | Albuquerque Journal News –
http://www.abqjournal.com/611157/opinion/cuba-is-already-a-changed-society.html

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