Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"Irritating privileges"

Fidel Castro’s “Reflections” published today, titled “Self-criticism of Cuba” (English here), begins with a discussion of student work brigades and ends with a long call for belt-tightening and conservation of resources. In between, it includes a three-paragraph comment on income inequality in Cuba.

Where does the inequality come from? Castro cites three examples.

First, Cubans in some enterprises receive incentive-based bonus pay in hard currency. This has not always been done legally, he points out, without making clear if he is referring to state enterprises or joint ventures with foreign investors.

Second, some receive remittances from abroad in hard currency – “something which is not illegal, but at times creates inequality and irritating privileges.”

Third, there are those who make large profits in black-market transportation activities. From earlier speeches, I assume he means unlicensed taxi drivers.

The result, Castro says, is that the “real and visible lack of equality and the lack of relevant information gives rise to criticism, above all in the neediest sectors.”

And the problem with this, he goes on to imply, is that those who have higher incomes nonetheless receive subsidized government services. But those services and their subsidies will continue as a matter of commitment, Castro says, and because “we are not a consumer society.”

Fair enough. I too would look askance, in Cuba or anywhere, at a system that provides government subsidies to people who don’t need them.

But another way of looking at all this is to say that Cuba’s real problem is not that some Cubans earn higher incomes, but that too many work hard and earn incomes that aren’t enough to cover their basic needs. And that the most important challenge for economic policy – if your goal is to wipe out inequality, black marketeering, and pilferage of state resources – is to raise the incomes of Cubans in the lower income segments.

Cuban policymakers are aware of this challenge and there is some public discussion of it.

Someday, if Cuba’s dual-currency system is ended and depending on how it is ended, lower-income Cubans could benefit (see discussion here). And Cuba’s labor minister says there is a new pay policy in the works, a counterpart to regulations tightening labor discipline, that is to tie pay to output and “guarantee” that workers “may live from their work” (more here).

We’ll see. I have no doubt that this debate will continue, and my guess is that it will frame the major decisions of the post-Fidel Castro government.


leftside said...

The piece is in English on Granma's main English site now...

There is also a new English translation of a portion of Ramonet's book 'Cien Horas Con Fidel" (100 Hours with Fidel) where Fidel discusses the racial discrimination, inequality and the "Palesteneos" from Oriente living illegally on the outskirts of Havana.... recently featured in a critical new documentary Buscándote Habana (Looking for Havana).

But I thought there was no critical opinions allowed in Cuba?? Turns out this film won a young filmaker award, which was covered in Granma.

Mambi_Watch said...

Great post!

Rarely does one run into a fair analysis of a Castro speech.

About the "Buscandote Habana" film, several portions of the documentary were shown in a Spanish weekend program here in Miami. The Miami Herald covered it too.

But, notice that the Herald (Wilfredo Cancio Isla) doesn't point out that the documentary won a prize at the Havana Film Festival last year in December. As Granma briefly did.

But, the Herald does point out that "some authorities seized several of [the director's] cassettes containing interviews with people expelled from Havana, and others barred her from filming in several poor parts of the capital. She was detained and her camera was confiscated in Guantánamo.]

The article paints a negative picture as if the film was being sabotaged by the Cuban government.

The director was actually imprisoned for while for filming. But, in reality the biggest problem that the director saw was funding and getting filming permits.

Funding seems to be a big issue.

But, the growing Cuban documentary format is being supported by the government, and its growing future is being debated to expand into national television.

leftside said...

MW - we do not know if the claims made by this supposed collegue (who now lives in Miami) are true or anything about the context surrounding her claims. We do not know why Rodriguez was filming in Guantanamo (a militarily sensitive site) or whether police were just taking precautionary measures (checking her filming permits or whatever). She was obviously not charged or prevented from showing the film. Omitting the Young Filmaker award from the story was a typical Herald manuever...