In his end-of year speech to
Raul recognized “expectations and honest concerns expressed by deputies [legislators] and citizens with regard to the pace and depth of the changes that we have to introduce into the functioning of the economy” and justified his slow pace as a hedge against the risk of “improvisation and haste.” He even pulled out a quote from Jose Marti: “What has to last a long time has to be made slowly.”
So what’s the next step?
A hint may have been provided by economy minister Marino Murillo in his December 21 speech to the legislature. His ministry and others are studying employment policy, he noted, then he said this: “Experiments have been initiated and others are being worked on to lighten the state’s burden in the provision of some services.”
There’s no date there, and certainly no detail, but that sounds like the kind of language that officials have used in the past to explain the expansion of self-employment – a realization on the government’s part that it doesn’t need to provide every single service in the economy, and some can be left to the private sector.
I find that Cubans are speculating that the government’s next step in economic policy will be to convert dysfunctional state enterprises – small ones such as restaurants, cafeterias, and repair shops – into urban cooperatives. The Cuban media long ago documented the problems in these businesses, many of which are functioning only because the workers take matters into their own hands (see articles in Juventud Rebelde in 2006, discussed here).
The speculation has been fueled by citizens’ suggestions that have appeared in the letters-to-the-editor section of Granma.
Here’s one from last November from J.R. Cuesta Tapia, an engineer and party member writing from
In the following week’s issue, there’s a supportive response from H. Palacios Alvarez, a doctor and “militant of the glorious Communist Party of Cuba.” He recalls how he went out to the streets to support the state’s takeover of small businesses in 1968. He now confesses that he “didn’t imagine, amid that revolutionary fervor, the burden that it would be for the state to take over control of that economic activity.” He agrees with Cuesta that the state should regulate rather than control small-scale food service operations, and he urges the state to create wholesale supply outlets for the self-employed who provide these services. That, he says, will allow providers to make a profit, it will keep prices low, and it will reduce theft of state resources.
The government would not have to break new ideological ground to put these ideas into practice. Self-employment, while limited, is already a reality in every neighborhood in
So the people are calling for it, their calls are being published, and the government is hinting vaguely. We’ll see where it goes.