The failure of a new agriculture exchange near the capital, Havana, “is a vivid sign of both how much the country has changed, and of all the political and practical limitations that continue to hold it back,” The New York Times reports:
Because of waste, poor management, policy constraints, transportation limits, theft and other problems, overall efficiency has dropped: many Cubans are actually seeing less food at private markets. That is the case despite an increase in the number of farmers and production gains for certain items. A recent study from the University of Havana showed that market prices jumped by nearly 20 percent in 2011 alone. And food imports increased to an estimated $1.7 billion last year, up from $1.4 billion in 2006.
“It’s the first instance of Cuba’s leader not being able to get done what he said he would,” said Jorge I. Domínguez, vice provost for international affairs at Harvard. “The published statistical results are really very discouraging.”
The reforms are failing to inject much dynamism into the island’s moribund economy, demonstrating that the regime has ‘has lost the ideological battle’, observers claim.
The project’s failure highlights the tensions within the ruling Community Party’s attempt to reconcile free markets with authoritarian politics, along the lines of the Market-Leninist regimes in Vietnam and China, analysts suggest:
“It’s about control,” said Philip Peters, a Cuba analyst with the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based research group.
Other analysts agree, noting that though the agricultural reforms have gone farther than other changes — like those that allow for self-employment — they remain constrained by politics.
“The government is not ready to let go,” said Ted Henken, a Latin American studies professor at Baruch College. “They are sending the message that they want to let go, or are trying to let go, but what they have is still a mechanism of control.”
Desperate for foreign revenue, Cuba’s government is suppressing news of a major cholera outbreak for fear of alienating tourists.
“We have to question whether the Cuban government today prioritizes their need for tourism … more than local public health demands,” wrote Sherri Porcelain, a public health expert at the University of Miami and researcher at its Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies.
Worst hit by the cholera has been eastern Cuba, where Sandy came ashore last month halfway between Manzanillo and Santiago, the island’s second-largest city and capital of a province with the same name.It damaged water, electricity and sewer systems, flooded latrines and left behind puddles where dengue-carrying mosquitoes easily bred.
“There is tremendous worry in Santiago,” said Clavel, one of a dozen Cubans contacted for this story. Many were dissidents, unafraid to talk about the epidemics. Their versions coincided in many ways, but could not be individually confirmed.
The regime’s recent crackdown on pro-democracy dissidents has prompted the head of Spain’s ruling party to call for the democratization of Cuba.
“I want to say very loudly and clearly that for the citizens of the western countries, for all the citizens of the democratic countries that share the same cultural roots and the same moral and political values, the existence of the Communist dictatorship in Cuba is a reason for embarrassment and a call to our sense of freedom and responsibility,” said Esperanza Aguirre.
Her country’s historical and cultural bonds with Cuba mean Spaniards have “more responsibility than anyone else when it comes to taking on the dictatorship, and when it comes to collaborating with the dissidence in order to achieve, once and for all, a return to a free Cuba,” she said.