El Nuevo HeraldMay 10, 2011
External Link: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/05/09/v-fullstory/2209271/cuba-publishes-list-of-proposed.html
Cuba’s ruling Communist Party finally published its pie-in-the-sky list of proposed economic reforms on Monday, raising both high hopes for a more efficient economy and deep questions about exactly how that would be achieved.
The 313 “guidelines” proposed expanding the sale of homes and cars and the ability of Cubans to travel abroad as tourists, creating production cooperatives and slashing state subsidies and payrolls, among many other changes.
Endorsed last month at a Communist Party Congress, the proposals are designed to rescue a crisis-plagued economy by opening the doors to private business activity without totally abandoning Cuba’s half-century of Soviet-styled central controls.
But the proposals published in the Granma newspaper, the official voice of the party, provided few details on how those changes would be carried out, leaving optimists and pessimists alike to read whatever they wanted into the list.
Cars already can be bought and sold if they were manufactured before 1959 — the year that Fidel Castro’s guerrillas seized power — and houses can be legally exchanged in a complicated system of “permutas” or swaps.
Cubans already can travel abroad as tourists — as long as the government grants them “white cards” — the coveted permissions to leave the country, and return without being considered permanent émigrés who loses all their properties on the island.
Dissident Havana economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe said he was still analyzing the guidelines but considered it “very positive” that they recognized the need for various forms of production, including cooperatives and what Cuba calls “self-employment” — micro enterprises such as family restaurants and party clowns.
But he added that guideline 265 — “to study a policy that would make it easier for Cubans to travel abroad as tourists” — could easily create chaos because “a lot of people would leave for good because of the economic conditions that we face.”
Though officially only “guidelines,” their sensitivity is reflected in their history.
Raúl Castro first proposed 291 items that closely matched his own thinking on reforms late last year, then threw it open to a national debate. By the time the Communist Party Congress opened April 16, more than 40 items had been dropped, one-third had been reworded and the total had grown to 311. And when the government announced Sunday that they would be published on Monday, they had grown to 313.
They are expected to be put into effect by either government decrees or laws approved by the National Assembly of People’s Power, which usually meets only for two brief sessions a year.
The latest list of 313 proposals was not available outside Cuba as of late Monday, but news agency reports from Havana noted some of the details mentioned or left out of the items.
The section on buying and selling home, for example, made no mention of what kinds of taxes or fees will be charged on the transactions, according to the Associated Press. Blogger Yoani Sanchez told journalists that she was skeptical about item 265 because it made no mention of lifting the need for the “white cards.”
Many Cubans already now receive permission to travel abroad, for tourism or family reunions, to any country that would issue them visas, though the “white cards” are often denied to dissidents, physicians, minors and members of the military.
One proposal on foreign investment described it as needed but noted that it should bring with it advanced technologies and management methods as well as new export markets in order to create skills and capital for new jobs.
Mid-sized government enterprises could be spun off as cooperatives run by their current employees, according to the news reports, and would be allowed to sell their products on the open markets. But there was no word on who would set the prices for the goods produced.
Some state-owned buildings could be turned into private residences to ease Cuba’s critical housing shortage, according to an Associated Press report. The government also wants to eliminate the country’s burdensome two-currency system and legalize the sale of construction material at unsubsidized prices.
Other guidelines calls for the continued shrinking of the ration card, which provides all Cubans with a basic basket of food and personal items per month at highly subsidized prices, and replacing it with a system of subsidies for poor families only.
One big issue now is whether any reform enacted will have the desired impact in a country where tight government controls mean that few things can be done legally — but almost anything can be done illegally — Espinosa Chepe told El Nuevo Herald.
Cubans have been illegally buying and selling cars and homes for decades, often paying bribes to the very government officials who were supposed to be blocking or catching and punishing such deals.
“Now comes the strong fight over these points,” Chepe said, “truly the most profound changes in 52 years but one could argue that not enough for the level of crisis that we face in Cuba.”