If communism is “the time countries waste between capitalism and capitalism,” as Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner suggests, the island’s 52nd wasted year is gearing up to be one of anxiety and insecurity.
President Raul Castro’s ruling Communist party is trying to reform a stagnant economy without undermining the austere security that underpins the ruling party’s fragile base of support.
“The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us any more,” his elder brother Fidel conceded recently.
The government blames the public sector’s “bloated payrolls” for retarding economic growth and plans to slash over a million jobs, or 20 percent of the entire work force, over the next three years. Some 500,000 workers will be made unemployed by the end of March and the government’s ham-fisted approch is provoking resentment.
Reform of the country’s bloated public sector is necessary, says dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, but the regime is “doing it in a very abrupt, very brutal way, without first creating the proper conditions.”
The political repercussions of the proposed reforms are unpredictable, but the resulting uncertainty threatens to undermine the social contract that has helped the regime secure a degree of public support and legitimacy in exchange for state-subsidized job security.
“To be pushed into making an independent living is almost like jumping in the void for those who have grown up in a country where, for decades, the State has been the monopoly employer,” dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez (below) said today.
The authorities hope to encourage a limited amount of private enterprise by permitting self-employment in certain restricted occupations. But it had only granted 75,000 licenses by the end of last year, state media reported last week, and 8,000 more are still being considered.
But not everybody’s convinced that the regime can reform the economy without unleashing social unrest, with some observers suggesting that something’s got to give.
“I believe the general feeling is fear, apprehension and panic,” Sánchez told El Nuevo Herald. “But it seems to me that those people freed from the government monopoly will channel their energy and talent in other ways and will gain social and political autonomy.”
The government is wary of Chinese-style market socialism, writes Jose Azel, and its bizarre list of 178 trades and professions open to self-employment reveals the regime’s “totalitarian mindset.”
Trade No. 23 will be the purchase and sale of used books. Trade 29 is an attendant of public bathrooms (presumably for tips); 34 is a palm-tree pruner (apparently other trees will still be pruned by the state). Trade 49 is covering buttons with fabric; 61 is shining shoes; 62 is cleaning spark plugs; 69 is a typist; 110 is the repair of box springs (not to be confused with 116, the repair of mattresses). Trade 124 is umbrella repairs; 125 is refilling of disposable cigarette lighters; 150 is fortune-telling with tarot cards; 156 is being a dandy (technical definition unknown, maybe a male escort?); 158 is peeling natural fruit (separate from 142, selling fruit in kiosks).
“The desire for control by the military and the Communist Party of every aspect of Cuban life is antithetical to the individual liberty and empowerment necessary to bring about an economic renaissance,” writes Azel, a senior scholar at the University of Miami and author of “Mañana in Cuba.”
The regime’s likely inability to do perestroika (economic reform) without glasnost (social and political changes), The Miami Herald notes, should place the White House “on alert for opportunities to help Cuban people without doing the dictatorship any favors.”