Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pilot project time

Cuban economic policy seems to be in the pilot project phase.

Last fall, one pilot project was announced – the closing of workplace cafeterias in four ministries in Havana, as the first step toward closing them nationwide to save $350 million annually.

But when economy minister Marino Murillo said in his December 21 speech to the Cuban legislature that the government is undertaking “experiments…to lighten the state’s burden in the provision of some services,” it was a mystery where the experiments were, and what they were about.

Foreign journalists in Cuba are starting to figure it out and have reported on a few of these experiments, none of which have been announced and many of which are taking place out in the provinces.

Marc Frank of Reuters reported that beginning last year in Santiago, some new retail outlets started opening, selling items in Cuban pesos that had been sold in hard currency only.

Also in Santiago province, the government is taking a smart new tack – licensing produce vendors, letting them have roadside kiosks, and taxing them instead of chasing them off the highways: “Dozens of small kiosks offering strings of tangerines, grapes, bananas and tropical fruits with exotic names such as Mame, Guanabana and Nispero appear, and the game of cat and mouse suddenly ends.” (ABC/Reuters).

In Camaguey, they are concentrating land grants to private farmers and small cooperatives in a close-in ring around the city, trying to encourage organic production of fruits, vegetables, and livestock. (ABC/Reuters)

And more important for the future of urban employment, there are pilot projects that involve changes in small state enterprises. More than three years ago, a series of articles in Juventud Rebelde pointed out the mess in many repair shops, barbershops, cafeterias, and similar state businesses. Since then, state media have several times quoted economists suggesting that these enterprises be turned over to the workers and converted into cooperatives, and I noted in January that this suggestion has appeared repeatedly in letters to the editor of Granma.

BBC’s Fernando Ravsberg reports that “a group of state beauty shops were converted into cooperatives and their workings were tested for six months.” (Where the shops are, he doesn’t say.) He also reports that a state taxi business has “transformed the state-employee relationship by eliminating the bureaucratic apparatus of other enterprises.” Now, drivers simply rent cabs for a fixed daily fee and pocket their profits. Ravsberg quotes a supporter of these changes speaking favorably of the slow pace, because “if we make a mistake we will take even longer and we will give arguments to those who fear that these transformations could destroy our socialism.”

Reuters has a similar report this week, and adds information on the policy debate, quoting the economy minister saying that the size of the “gigantic paternalistic state” has to be cut back.

All in all, this movement is slow, it’s clearly dominated by a strong sense of political caution, but it seems to be moving in a good direction.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

FYI: Ravsberg's articles are regularly translated into English in Havana Times