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Cuba's crumbling capital Havana. (Photo: Lucas Mathis)
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Perspectives

Raul’s Reforms Going Nowhere

Cuba continues to suffer great shortages. 

BY FRANK CALZON

Raul Castro's reforms have gone nowhere. Under his regime, the Cubans have been permitted to legally make paper flowers at home, refill cigarette lighters, and expand their paladares (home-cooking establishments) beyond the twelve seats permitted in the past. Cubans are prohibited from engaging in exports or imports, and all sectors of the economy, including minor sectors, remain under the control of the regime with the exception of barber shops, fruit stands, the toasting of peanuts by one or two persons for them to sell as street vendors. As in colonial times, the tobacco industry is a monopoly of the state. When Madrid ruled Cuba, several tobacco growers protested in the outskirts of Havana; they were hanged. 

A major issue with Cubans today is the fact that foreigners have economic rights and privileges that are denied Cubans. Cubans have two currencies. One is pesos, which are not convertible and which are not accepted in Cuban government hard currency stores, the only places where Cubans can often purchase cooking oil, soap, detergent, or other basic products. The other currency is the CUC, the Cuban convertible peso. Cubans are paid in worthless pesos. They must buy basic products in CUCs. One CUC is worth about 24 pesos. A bottle of cooking oil might be worth 3 to 4 CUCs, in other words about 96 pesos. Milk for Cuban children has never been available with the rationing card after a child turns seven years of age. Milk for older children has to be bought in CUCs at prices comparable to American prices. A Cuban gets paid the equivalent of $20 to $28 dollars a month. The products available for purchase through the old rationing card, which provided very low quality items for a subsidized price, are very few. Another one of Raul Castro's reforms was to close workers’ cafeterias in factories where Cubans were able to eat very low quality and very limited amounts of food at subsidized prices. 

There has been a significant increase in customs fees on food, medicine, electric appliances, etc. brought to the island. This measure has a negative impact on the amount of foodstuffs and other items brought to the island, which continues to suffer great shortages. Even clergy bringing foodstuffs to the island have to pay high customs fees. Another change for the worse has been the repressive techniques resulting in an increase (as many as hundreds monthly) of short-term detentions. Beatings, harassment, abuse, the use of rapid deployment brigades against dissidents and their families continue. 

There has been a change in the business climate. Some foreign businessmen and investors have left the country. Most have had difficulties getting access to their own funds in Cuba's national bank. Some are pressured to lobby their own governments on behalf of Havana. Others have been detained and some continue to be imprisoned. Havana picks and chooses who is to be punished for what they call "corruption," when in fact, bribes and money under the table is a requirement to do business in Cuba. This extends to the cop on the beat, who exacts gifts from the self-employed and even from the jineteras, or prostitutes, just like under Batista.

Frank Calzon is the executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba. He wrote this column for Latinvex.

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