Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Poco a poco

Raul Castro has promised to make changes, to take “big decisions,” and to eliminate “excessive prohibitions” that afflict Cuban citizens in their daily lives.

But how far will he go, and how fast? That question leads to all kinds of speculation, similar to the speculation before last month’s leadership decisions. But as in that situation – did anyone on earth predict that Machado Ventura would be the new number two? – those who say, don’t know, and those who know, don’t say.

The most tangible change so far involves public investment in transportation. The camellos that dominated public transit for the past 15 years – two Hungarian buses with their noses sawed off, the bodies welded together, the whole contraption pulled by a belching tractor-trailer cab – are nearly gone. On a recent trip I saw only one in Havana, on Avenida Rancho Boyeros. Hundreds of new Chinese buses are providing regular service, lines at bus stops are noticeably shorter, and people talk about the difference. There is also less policing of private taxis, cab drivers say, adding to the supply of transportation services. Road conditions are also improved; apparently, the Chinese vendors would not honor bus warranties unless potholes were repaired on bus routes.

And what about the famous “prohibitions?”

There are rumors aplenty – that Cubans will be able to have cell phones in their own names instead of having a foreigner sign the contract for them, that they will be able to stay in hotels, and the tarjeta blanca exit permit and similar restrictions will be dropped.

So far, there have been some moves in the agriculture sector (more on that later), a decision to allow Cubans to get medicines at any pharmacy, not only their own, and a decision to sell computers in the state’s hard currency stores beginning next week, along with other appliances that will be rolled out over the next few years.

The decision on computers and appliances first came to light through this memo that appears to have circulated among retail outlets, and then through this ministerial resolution.

In the coming months, we’ll find out just how many of Cuba’s regulatory prohibitions are deemed to be “excessive” by Raul. And we’ll see if this agenda is accompanied by one that generates growth and job creation.


Anonymous said...

one change I would like to see is the eliminationo of la carta blanca.. its silly, repressive and makes normal cubans pissed (and looks bad internationally)..the regime would not be giving up much to eliminate them, cubans would still need a visa (with interview , etc) to go to almost every country in the world. Most would be denied toursit visa in another country, like mexico, , b/c of lack of assets, etc.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous of course, also had to drop by and give my appreciation for this blog, it's one of the few places I've found where there's a sane news analysis on Cuba. I think "Poco a Poco" is a fair motto to describe what we'll be seeing in Cuba as we move into the next era. I can also imagine that the U.S. government will follow a similarly slow process of changing relations with the island.

Phil Peters said...

Anon 7:38, they could go further than that, but eliminating the tarjeta blanca would be a very good move.

Anon 10:56, many thanks.