Tag Archives: Sugar Sector

Espacio Laical, “The Sixth Party Congress and “Lineamientos”: A Turning Point for Cuba?”

Just Published on Espacio Laical, Suplemento Digital No.132 / 16 de Junio 2011
Tomado de la sección Búsqueda (revista 3-2011) Hyperlink here:

The Sixth Congress of the Cuba’s Communist Party will likely be of immense importance for Cuba’s future. The ratification of the revised Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución “by the National Assembly means that it is now politically correct to support, advocate and implement an ambitious reform agenda.  By implication, it also is politically correct to draw the conclusion that a half century of economic experimentation with the lives of Cuban citizens was for the most part misguided, counterproductive, and unsustainable.  Despite attempts to create an impression of historical continuity by referring to the “updating” of the economic model, the old approaches to economic management have been deeply discredited. The shifting climate of opinion regarding how the Cuban economy can best function has been certified as reasonable by the National Assembly.  It now appears that a regression to old modes of economic operation is now highly improbable..

The economic future for Cuba clearly lies in a newly-rebalanced albeit vaguely-envisaged mixed market economy that will be the outcome of the various reforms that are slated to be implemented.  This is a surprising reversal of fortunes. It also constitutes a vindication of the some of the views of the critics of past economic policies.

The “Lineamientos” represent an attempt by President Raul Castro to forge his own “legacy” and to emerge from the long shadow of his brother, as well as to set the Cuban economy on a new course. The ratification of the reform agenda represents a successful launch of the “legacy” project.  President Raul Castro would indeed make a unique and valuable contribution to Cuba and its citizens were he to move Cuba definitively through dialogue and agreement among all Cubans towards a model that guarantees both economic and social rights as well as civil liberties and authentic democracy.

Are moves in these directions likely to happen? Not under current political circumstances. However, there are bottom-up pressures building and some official suggestions that movement towards political liberalization is not impossible. In the meantime, Raul’s de-centralizing, de-bureaucratizing and “market-liberalizing” reforms been launched. This is a good start for the construction of a positive independent “legacy.”

I. Cuba’s Economic Situation

In various speeches since 2006, Raul Castro has indicated that he recognizes the problems that Cuba confronts in terms of the production of agricultural and industrial goods and improvement of Cuba’s infrastructure (despite the ostensibly solid GDP performance from 2005 to 2009 before Cuba was hit by the international recession.) He is well aware of the central causal forces underlying weak Cuba’s economic vulnerabilities and weaknesses such as the unbalanced structure of the economy, the overburden of deadening rules and regulations and a sclerotic bureaucracy and the monetary and exchange rate pathologies and dysfunctional incentive environment that deform the energies and lives of Cuban citizens.

Cuba’s economic plight can be summarized quickly with a couple of illustrations. First, Cuba’s underwent  serious de-industrialization after 1989 from which it has not recovered, reaching only about 51% of the 1989 level by 2009 (Chart 1)

Source: ONE AEC, 2004, Table 11.1 and 2IX.1

Note: Data for 1990-1997 are not available

There are a variety of reasons for the collapse of the industrial sctor:

(a)    The antiquated technological inheritance from the Soviet era as of 1989;

(b)   Insufficient maintenance over a number of decades before and after 1989;

(c)    The 1989-1993economic melt-down;

(d)   Insufficient levels of investment; (The overall level of investment in Cuba in 2008 was 10.5% of GDP compared to 20.6% for all of Latin America  according to UN ECLA, 2011, Table A-4.)

(e)    The dual monetary and exchange rate system that penalizes potential exporters that would receive one old (Moneda Nacional) peso for each US dollar earned from exports;

(f)    Competition in Cuba’s domestic market with China which has had a grossly undervalued exchange rate, coexisting with Cuba’s grossly overvalued exchange rate.

Second, the collapse of the sugar agro-industrial complex is well known and is illustrated in Chart 2. The sugar sector essentially was a “cash cow” milked to death for its foreign exchange earnings, by insufficient maintenance, by insufficient re-investment preventing productivity improvement, and by the exchange rate regime under which it labored.
Source: NU CEPAL, 2000 Cuadro A.86; ONE, 2010 Table 11.4

The consequences of the collapse of the sugar sector include the loss of about US$ 3.5 billion in foreign exchange earnings foregone (generated largely with domestic value added); reductions in co-produced electricity; a large increase in idled farm land; a destruction of the capacity to produce ethanol; damaging regional and local development impacts, and a destruction of much of the “cluster” of input-providing, output-processing and marketing activities related to sugar.

Third, the production of food for domestic consumption has been weak since 1989, despite some successes in urban agriculture.  Food imports have increased steadily and in recent years account for an estimated 75 to 80% of domestic food consumption despite large amounts of unused farm land. Meanwhile agricultural exports have languished,


Chart 3  Cuban Exports and Imports of Foodstuffs, 1989-2009
(excluding Tobacco and Alcoholic Beverages) (Millions CUP)

Source: NU CEPAL, 2000 Tables A.36 and A.37, and ONE, AEC, Various Years.

Fourthly, “inflation-adjusted “ or “real” wages in the official economy collapsed and have not recovered significantly according to estimates from the Centro de Estudios sobre la Economia Cubana (Chart 4.)  This is indeed a major calamity for the official state economy. But though the official 2008 wage rate remained around 25% of its level of 1989, most people had other sources of income, such as remittances, legal self-employment, home produced goods and services, economic activities in the underground economy, income supplements in joint ventures, goods in kind from the state and widespread pilferage.  Those without other sources of income are in poverty.

Chart 4   Cuba: Real Inflation-Adjusted Wages, 1989-2009
Pesos, Moneda Nacional)

Vidal  Alejandro, Pavel, “Politica Monetaria y Doble Moneda”, in Omar Everleny Perez et. al., Miradas a la Economia Cubana, La Habana: Editorial Caminos, 2009

Furthermore, despite the exceedingly low official rates of unemployment – around 1.6 to 1.7%, (far below the “natural rate” of unemployment which represents normal new entrants, job-changers and structural changes in any economy) – underemployment is obviously very high. Presumably the 1.8 million workers considered by the Government to be redundant and subject to probable lay-off and transfer to small enterprise, are “underemployed”, accounting for around 35 per cent of the labor force.

A further dimension of the fragility of Cuba’s economic situation is the dependence on the special relationship with Venezuela that relies upon high oil prices and the presence and munificence of President Chavez.

It is to the credit of President Raul Castro that he has faced these problems directly, diagnosed their sources, and produced the “Lineamientos” to deal with them. The central sources of the difficulties are the general structure of incentives that orients the economic activities of Cuban citizens, this including the dual monetary and exchange rate system, the tight containment of individual economic initiatives, the detailed rules and regulations of the omnipresent bureaucracy. Paradoxically, in attempting to control everything in the past, the government has ended up controlling very little. The effectiveness of stricter state controls actually leads to weaker genuine control due to their promotion of illegalities, corruption and the ubiquitous violation of unrealistic regulations.

II. The Lineamientos

The objective of the “Lineamientos” is “to guarantee the continuity and irreversibility of Socialism” as well as economic development (p.10). This is to be achieved through an “up-dating” of the economic model that should result in utilization of idle lands, reversal of decapitalization of infrastructure and industry, a restructuring of employment, increased labor productivity, increased and diversified exports, decentralized decision-making and elimination of monetary and exchange rate dualism (p. 8.)

But the term “Socialism” remains somewhat ambiguous in the document.  Reference is made to “socialist property” and “preserving the conquests of the Revolution.”  Especially interesting is the statement that

“…socialism signifies equality of rights and equality of opportunities for all the citizens, not egalitarianism” (p.9)

This assertion could be of game-changing significance, as it articulates a fundamental principle of “Social Democracy” more so that a traditional principle of  “Socialism.”  This leaves questions unanswered and doors unclosed.

The “Lineamientos” are in effect an ambitions and comprehensive “wish-list” or statement of aspirations. Many of the 313 recommendations are fairly obvious, trite and general statements of reasonable economic management. Some statements have been made repeatedly over a number of decades, including those relating to the expansion and diversification of exports, science and technology policy, the sugar agro-industrial complex, or the development of by-products and derivatives from the sugar industry (an objective at least since 1950.) Restating many of these as guidelines can’t do much harm, but certainly does not guarantee their implementation.

There are also opaque elements among the guidelines and seeming contradictions as some of them stress continuity of state planning and control while others emphasize greater autonomy for enterprises.  For example, Guideline 7 emphasizes how “planning” will include non-state forms of enterprise and “new methods…. of state control of the economy” while No. 62 states “The centralized character …of the degree of planning of the prices of products and services, which the state has an interest in regulating will be maintained.” But numerous other guidelines spell out the greater powers that state and non-state enterprises will have over a wide range of their activities including pricing (Guidelines 8 to 22 and 63.)

While there are a few gaps and shortcomings in the “Lineamientos” as well as the references to planning and state control, they include some deep-cutting proposals on various aspects of economic organization and policy that represent the inauguration of a movement towards a “market-friendly” economic policy environment. Among these are:

  • Greater autonomy of the enterprise in numerous dimensions, hiring and firing, wage structures, financing, price setting, investing, and also in facing bankruptcy;
  • A phase-out of rationing and the ration book and the more careful targeting of social assistance to those who need it, thereby also strengthening incentives to work (No. 162);
  • The establishment of wholesale markets for inputs for all types of enterprise. (No. 9);
  • Continuing distribution of unused state lands to small farmers (No. 187);
  • Reduction of state controls regarding small farmers and cooperatives regarding producer decision-making, marketing of crops, provision of inputs, and (No. 178-184)

A central policy thrust is the expansion of the self-employment and cooperative sector in order to absorb ultimately some 1,800.000 state workers considered redundant. The legislation already implemented in October 2010 liberalized policy somewhat so as to encourage the establishment of additional microenterprises – especially by the liberalization of licensing, the establishment of wholesale markets for inputs and the recent relaxation of hiring restrictions. However, the limitations of the policy changes are highlighted by the modest increase in the number of “Paladar” chairs – from 12 to 20.

Unfortunately current restrictions will prevent the expected expansion of the sector. These include the heavy taxation that can exceed 100% of net earnings (after costs are deducted from revenues)  for enterprises with high costs of production; the prohibition of the use of intermediaries and advertising, and continued petty restrictions. Perhaps most serious restriction is that all types of enterprises that are not specifically permitted are prohibited including virtually all professional activities.  The 176 permitted activities, some defined very narrowly, contrast with the  “Yellow Pages” of the telephone directory for Ottawa (half the size of Havana) that includes 883 varieties of activities, with 192 varieties for “Business Services”, 176 for “Home and Garden, 64 for “Automotive”  and 29 for “Computer and Internet Services.” Presumably policies towards micro-and small enterprise will be further liberalized in the months ahead if laid-off workers are to be absorbed productively.

One short-coming of the “Lineamientos” is the lack a time dimension and a depiction of how the various changes will be implemented. There are no clear priorities among the innumerable guidelines, no sequences of actions, and no apparent coordination of the guidelines from the standpoint of their implementation. It remains a “check-list” of good intentions, though none-the-less valuable.

The absence of a vision of how change was to occur and the slow pace of the adoption of the reforms so far is also worrisome. However, the Administration of Raul Castro has been deliberative and systematic though also cautious. It is probable that somewhere in the government of Raul Castro there is a continually evolving time-line and master-plan for the implementation of the reform measures.

A careful and well-researched approach to economic reform is obviously desirable. The difficulties encountered in laying off 500,000 state sector workers and re-absorbing them in the small-enterprise sector by March 31, 2011 has probably encouraged an even more cautious  “go-slow” approach.  Perhaps “slow and steady wins the race!”

A process of economic —but not political— reform seems to have already begun following the Congress. Where it will lead is hard to predict. Presumably Raúl Castro’s regime would like the process to end with the political status quo plus a healthy economy. The latter would require a new balance between public and private sectors, with a controlled movement toward the market mechanism in price determination and the shaping of economic structures, and with the construction of a rational configuration of incentives shaping citizens’ daily economic actions so that their private endeavors become compatible with Cuba’s broader economic well-being.

In such a reform process many things would be changing simultaneously with symbiotic impacts and consequences that will likely be painful and are difficult to foresee. Will President Raul Castro have the courage to take the risks inherent in an ambitious process of economic change? This remains to be seen. But the economic and political consequences of inaction are so bleak and the attractiveness of a positive historical “legacy” are so enticing that President Raul Castro will continue.

The economic reform process has been launched. It is in its early stages. It will likely continue under the leadership of Raul Castro. It will proceed far beyond the “Lineamientos” under new generations of Cuban citizens in economic as well as political spheres.


Naciones Unidas, CEPAL, La Economia Cubana: Reformas estructurales y desempeňo en los noventa, Santiago, Chile, 2000, Second Edition.

Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas (ONE), Anuario Estadistico de Cuba (AEC), various years. Website: http://www.one.cu/

Partido Comunista de Cuba,  Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución, Aprobado el 18 de abril de 2011, VI Congreso del PCC

United nations, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Preliminary Overview of the Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean, 2010, Santiago, Chile January, 2011

Vidal Alejandro, Pavel, “Politica Monetaria y Doble Moneda”, in Omar Everleny Perez et. al., Miradas a la Economia Cubana, La Habana: Editorial Caminos, 2009

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Mark Frank: “Higher prices luring more farmers in Cuba”

*Sugar ministry providing free services to new farmers

*Land lease program prioritizes sector

HAVANA, June 2 (Reuters) – More Cuban farmers are opting to grow sugar cane due to higher prices and other incentives being offered by the Sugar Ministry as part of plans to revive the depressed crop, industry sources said this week.

Sugar may no longer be king on the Caribbean island where it once accounted for 90 percent of export earnings with 7 to 8 million tonne harvests, and today brings in only 5 percent of foreign currency.

But with international prices expected to remain high, the cash-strapped government is showing a new interest in the sector.

“The ministry is clearing and plowing land, providing seed and some other services to individuals who lease fallow state acreage under a government program begun in 2008,” a local sugar expert said, asking his name not be used due to a prohibition on talking with foreign journalists.

“Mills have more than doubled what they pay for cane to 100 pesos per tonne (US$4.00),” he added.

The expert said the price remained too low, but free start-up services put sugar at an advantage over other crops where new farmers were expected to clear and bring land into production with little, if any, government support.

To date, the agriculture ministry has granted 128,000 leases covering 1.2 million hectares (2.9 million acres), with another 700,000 hectares (1.7 million acres) being offered.

The government is expected to liberalize the program this month by expanding the acreage an individual can farm, significantly extending the 10 year lease, and allowing homes and other structures to be built on the land, among other measures.

Output was around 1.2 million tonnes of raw sugar this year, slightly higher than the 1.1 million tonne 2010 season, but still one of the poorest performances on record.

The state owned industry hopes to increase production to 2.4 million tonnes by 2015.

“The agriculture ministry is prioritizing cane and pointing out its advantages when people come in seeking land,” one industry insider said, adding thousands of new farmers were opting to grow sugar and existing ones to switch over or add it, without being more specific.

“Acreage earmarked for sugar cane is 974,000 hectares (2.4 million acres), of which 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres) were in production this season,” he said.

Cuba consumes an average 700,000 tonnes of sugar annually; however last year consumption was around 600,000 tonnes due to a reduction in the domestic ration and other measures.

Assuming similar local consumption this year, the industry would be offering around 200,000 tonnes on the market after meeting its 400,000 tonne toll agreement with China.

Ministry officials have said this year’s output was 7 percent above plan, with industry sources reporting at least two extra shipments, totaling 80,000 tonnes, contracted. (Editing by John Picinich)

Transportation  at the Australia Sugar Mill, November 1994, Photo by A. Ritter

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An Overview Evaluation of Economic Policy in Cuba circa 2010

By Arch Ritter

The essay attached and summarized briefly here was presented at a conference at CIAPA, in San Jose, Costa Rica, February 3 and 4, 2009 organized by Paolo Spadonu of Tulane University.

The full essay is entitled An Overview Evaluation of Economic Policy in Cuba, circa 2010, June 30, 2010 and can be seen “HERE”. The Introduction and Conclusion are presented below.

Hopefully, this evaluation will change considerably for the better after the Sixth Congress of the Communist party of Cuba in April.

I. Introduction

The economic development of Cuba has been characterized by high levels of investment in people with successful results, but with weak performance in terms of the production of goods and services generally. Cuba’s achievements regarding human development are well known and are epitomized by the United Nations Development Program’s “Human Development Index” (HDI). On the one hand, this index ranks Cuba at #1 in the world for the Education component (somewhat surprisingly) and #31for the Life Expectancy component. On the other hand, Cuba’s world ranking is for GDP per capita in purchasing power parity terms is #94 with an overall world HDI ranking of #51(UNDP, HDR, 2009, 271.) These rankings underline the inconsistency between the Cuba’s high level of human development on the one hand and its economic underperformance on the other. The strong economic performance of the 2004 to 2008 period appeared to constitute a rapid recovery in terms of Cuban GDP statistics. However, this recovery, while perhaps not illusory, was fragile and unsustainable, based on factors such as support from Venezuela and high nickel export prices, and indeed it has been reversed in 2009-2010.

Given the quality of Cuba’s human resources, the economic performance for the last 15 years should have been excellent. The central argument of this essay is that Cuba’s weak economic performance has been the result of counter-productive public policy. The objective of this essay is to analyze and evaluate a number of central policy areas that shape Cuba’s economic performance, including monetary and exchange rate policy, policy towards micro-enterprise; agricultural policy, labor policy, foreign investment policy, policies towards infrastructure renewal, and the policy approach to self-correction and self-renewal.

In order to present a brief overview of the evaluations, an academic style of grading is employed, with an “A+” being excellent through to an “F” representing “failure”.

This evaluation schema is of course subjective, impressionistic and suggestive rather than rigorous. It is based on brief analyses of the various policy areas. However, the schema is similar to the scoring systems widely used in academia, and is used here with no more apology than is normally the case in the academic world.

Before proceeding with the policy analysis and evaluation, a brief overview of economic performance in the decade of the 2000s is presented to provide the context for the examinations of economic policy.

II. General Economic Performance

III.  Evaluation of Some Central Policy Areas

IV.   Summary and Conclusion:

A summary of the evaluations of the various assessment areas yields an overall evaluation of   “D +”. This is not a strong assessment of Cuban economic policies.

1. Monetary & Exchange Rate Policy                  C-

2. Micro-Enterprise Policy                                    F

3. Policy towards Agriculture                              C-

4. Labor Policy                                                        D+

5. Foreign Investment Policy D+

6. Infrastructure Renewal                                   D

7. Capacity for Self Correction                            D

Overall Grade: D +

The result of such weak policies in these areas is weak economic performance. Badly conceived economic policies nullify the potential efforts of the Cuban citizenry. The major investments in human capital, while fine in their own right, are not yielding strong economic performance. Indeed, misguided policies are undermining, sabotaging and wasting the economic energies and initiatives of Cuba’s citizens.

Major policy reforms amounting to a strategic reorientation of Cuban economic management are likely necessary to achieve a sustained economic recovery and future economic trajectory. So far, writing in June 2010, the Government of Raul Castro has made some modest moves, principally in agriculture, as mentioned earlier. Other policy areas such as those relating to micro-enterprise are reported to be under discussion at high levels in the government. On the other hand, the replacement of the reputed pragmatists Carlos Lage, (Secretary of the Council of Ministers) and Jose Luis Rodriguez, (Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Economy and Planning) and the replacement of Lage by Major General José Amado Ricardo Guerra of the Armed Forces seems to suggest that the Raul Castro Government may be moving towards a less reformist approach to economic management ( Granma International, 2009.)

The types of policy reforms that would be necessary to strengthen the policy areas discussed above would include the following:

  1. Monetary & Exchange Rate Policy: movement towards realistic and unified monetary and exchange rate systems;
  2. Micro-Enterprise Policy: establishment of an enabling and supportive policy environment rather than a punitive policy of containment;
  3. Policy towards Agriculture: further support for small-scale farmers plus a reinvigoration of the abandoned sugar fields with cane for ethanol, among other policies;
  4. Labor Policy: implement the International Labour Organization approach to fundamental labor rights;
  5. Foreign Investment Policy: establish a clearer and more unequivocal rules-based policy framework;
  6. Infrastructure Renewal: strengthening resource flows towards maintenance, especially for housing, water, and sanitation, and facilitating self-managed and do-it-yourself maintenance on the housing stock by liberalizing the trades and making repair supplies available at reasonable cost;
  7. Capacity for Self Correction: permit an authentic implementation of freedom of expression and freedom of association thereby permitting economic analysis and criticism through a free press and media and the formation of alternate “teams” of potential economic managers – some within political parties.

In sum, effective economic management requires new ideas, transparency and criticism, and, indeed, a major policy reform process in order to reverse the current wastage of human energies, talents and resources. Policy reorientations in the directions noted above are unlikely to be forthcoming from the Government of Raul Castro, which appears to be deeply conservative as well as “gerontocratic”. Cuba will likely have to wait for a “New Team” or more likely a “generational change” in its overall economic management before such major reforms can be implemented.

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Fidel’s Phenomenal Economic Fiascoes: the Top Ten

Fidel Castro recently clarified an allegedly erroneous quotation and stated something to the effect that “Yes the Cuban Model does indeed work”. It would have been difficult for Fidel to do a “Mea Culpa” and agree that half a century of his own management of the Cuban economy had been erroneous and counter-productive.

However, as the grand economic “strategizer” as well as the micro-manager of many issues that captured his attention President Fidel Castro was responsible for a long list of economic blunders. Here is my listing of Fidel’s most serious fiascoes.

Next week I will try and produce a listing of Cuba’s Greatest Achievements under President Castro. Unfortunately I find this more difficult than to identify the failures.

Top Ten Economic Fiascoes

Fiasco # 10     The Instant Industrialization Strategy, 1961-1963:

Fiasco #9        The 10 Million Ton Sugar Harvest Strategy, 1964-1970

Fiasco #8        The “New Man”

Fiasco #7        The “Budgetary System of Finance”

Fiasco #6        The “Revolutionary Offensive” and the Nationalization of Almost Everything

Fiasco #5        Revolucion Energetica

Fiasco #4 Shutting Down Half the Sugar Sector

Fiasvco #3 A Half Century of Monetary Controls and Non-Convertibility

Fiasco #2        Suppression of Workers’ Rights

Fiasco #1        Abolition of Freedom of Expression

Fiasco # 10     The Instant Industrialization Strategy, 1961-1963:

Cuba’s first development strategy, installed by the Castro Government in 1961, called for “Instant Industrialization”, the rapid installation of a wide range of import-substituting industries, such as metallurgy, heavy engineering and machinery, chemical products, transport equipment and even automobile assembly.

The program proved unviable as it was import-intensive, requiring imported machinery and equipment, raw materials, intermediate goods, managerial personnel, and repair and maintenance equipment. Because the sugar sector was ignored, the harvest fell from 6.7 million tons in 1961 to 3.8 in 1963 generating a balance of payments crisis. The end result was that Cuba became more dependent than ever on sugar exports, on imported inputs of many kinds and on a new hegemonic partner, the Soviet Union.

The strategy was aborted in 1964.

Fiasco #9        The 10 Million Ton Sugar Harvest Strategy

The failure of the “Instant Industrialization” strategy led to an emphasis on sugar production for export with a guaranteed Socialist Bloc market for 5 million tons per year at a price well above the world price – from 1965 to 1970. The over-riding preoccupation became the 10 million ton goal, which according to President Castro was necessary for “defending the honor, the prestige, the safety and self-confidence of the country” (February 9, 1970.)

Fidel seemed happiest when conducting a campaign military style as he did during the effort to produce 10 million tons of sugar.

If it had been implemented in a measured way, a strategy to increase export earnings from sugar would have been reasonable. However, as 1970 approached, the implementation of the 10 million ton target became increasingly forced. Other sectors of the economy were sacrificed as labor, transport capacity, industrial inputs, energy, raw materials and national attention all focused on sugar.

This strategy was aborted in 1970.

Fiasco #8        The “New Man”

In order to mobilize human energies for the 10 million ton harvest a radical “Guevaraist” approach was adopted involving the construction of the so- called  “New Man.” The idea behind this was a vision of the Cuban Nation as a guerrilla column marching behind Fidel – somewhat like his marches down the Malecon in 2000-2006 – single-mindedly pursuing a common objective, willingly sacrificing individual interests for the common good and with the esprit de corps, discipline and dedication of an idealized guerrilla band. To promote this revolutionary altruism, the government used public exhortation and political education, “moral incentives” instead of material incentives and proselytizing and enforcement by the Party and other “mass organs” of society.

By 1970, it was apparent that people could not be expected to sacrifice their own and their family’s material well-being and survival for some objective decreed and enforced by the Party. The approach was dropped in 1970.

Fiasco #7        The “Budgetary System of Finance”

In a simultaneous experiment, a so-called “budgetary system of finance” was installed under which enterprises were to operate without financial autonomy and without accounting, neither receiving the revenues from sales of their output nor paying for their inputs with such revenues – somewhat like University Departments.

Without a rational structure of prices, and without knowledge of their true costs or the value of their output, neither enterprises nor the planning authorities could have an idea of the genuine efficiencies of enterprises, of sectors of the economy, or of resource-use anywhere. The result of this was disastrous inefficiency.  In President Castro’s words:

“..What is this bottomless pit that swallows up this country’s human resources, the country’s wealth, the material goods that we need so badly? It’s nothing but inefficiency, non-productivity and low productivity.” (Castro, December 7, 1970)

This system was also terminated in 1970.

Fiasco #6        The “Revolutionary Offensive” and the Nationalization of Almost Everything

In the “Revolutionary Offensive” of 1968, Fidel Castro’s government expropriated most of the remaining small enterprise sector on the grounds that it was capitalistic, exploitative, and deformed people’s characters, making them individualistic instead of altruistic “New Men”. The result was true living standards were impaired, product quality, quantity and diversity deteriorated, enterprises were pushed into the underground economy,  theft from state sector and illegalities become the norm and citizen’s entrepreneurship was suppressed. This policy was changed in 1993, then contained by tight regulation, licensing and taxation after 1985,.

Again in September 2010, the government of Raul Castro appears ready to expand the small enterprise sector in hopes that it will absorb most of the 500,000 workers to be laid off from the state sector.

Fiasco #5        “Revolucion Energetica”

President Castro’s “Revolucion Energetica” included some valuable elements such as conservation measures, re-investment in the power grid and the installation of back-up generators for important facilities such as health centres. A questionable feature of the plan is the replacement of large-scale thermal-electric plants with numerous small generators dispersed around the island. But the use of the small-scale generators likely constitutes a major error for the following reasons:

  • The economies of large scale electricity generation are lost;
  • Synchronizing the supply of electricity generated from numerous locations to meet the minute-by-minute changes in electricity demand is complicated and costly;
  • Problems and costs of maintaining the numerous dispersed generators are  high;
  • Logistical control and management costs escalate as the national grid is replaced with regional systems.
  • Expensive diesel fuel is used rather than lower cost heavy oil:
  • Diesel fuel has to be transported by truck to the generators around the island;
  • Investments for the storage of diesel fuel in numerous supply depots are necessary;
  • Problems of pilferage of diesel fuel may be significant, and costs of security and protection may be high.

No other country in the world has adopted this method of generating electricity, suggesting that it does not make sense economically.

The energy master-plan also ignores a possible role of the sugar sector in producing ethanol and contributing to energy supplies. The experience of Brazil indicates that at higher petroleum prices, ethanol from sugar cane becomes economically viable. The shut-down of some 70 out of Cuba’s 156 sugar mills in 2003, the moth-balling of another 40 and the contraction of the whole sugar agro-industrial service cluster is also a major loss for electricity generation.

Fiasco #4        Shutting Down Half of the Sugar Sector

In 2002, Castro decided that there was no future in sugar production, a decision prompted by low sugar prices at the time and undoubtedly the continuing difficulties in the sector. He decreed the shut-down of 71 of 156 sugar mills, taking some 33% of areas under sugar cane out of production and displacing about 100,000 workers. It was hoped that land-use would shift to non-sugar crops, that remaining mills would become more productive, and that displaced labour would be reabsorbed elsewhere.

In any case, sugar production has continued to decline which is unfortunate given high prices in recent years. There has not been a shift into ethanol production. The physical plant has continued to deteriorate. The cluster of activities surrounding sugar must be near collapse.  The sugar communities are left without an economic base and some face the prospect of becoming ghost towns.

Fiasco #3        A Half Century of Monetary Controls and Non-Convertibility

Responsibility for Fiasco #3 is shared in part with Che Guevara, who as President of the Banco Nacianal de Cuba, presided over imposition of monetary controls and implementation of the policies that made Cuba’s peso non-convertible for half a century.

Cuba’s monetary system has been and is a serious obstacle to the freedom of Cuban citizens. Citizens’ incomes have had purchasing power outside the country only when permitted to be exchanged for a foreign convertible currency and then only at a discount for some decades. As is well known, the official exchange rate for Cuban citizens has been in the area of  22 pesos (Moneda Nacional) to US $1.00, so that the purchasing power of the average monthly salary – 415 pesos in 2008 (Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas, 2009, Table 7.4) is about US$20.00.

Fiasco #2        Suppression of Workers’ Rights

Thanks to the regime implanted by President Castro, Cuban workers do not have the right to undertake independent collective bargaining or to strike. Unions are not independent organizations representing worker interests but are official government unions. Independent unions and any attempts to establish them are illegal.

Cuba has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is a member of the International Labor Organization.  The basic United Nations Declarations support freedom of association for labor. The International Labor Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work includes, as the first fundamental right of labor, “freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining”

The central function of independent labor unions is to provide countervailing power to oligopolistic or monopolistic employers in wage determination and in the setting of the terms and conditions of work. Unions have been successful in western countries in raising wages, improving the equity of income distribution and improving work conditions.

In the Cuban case, workers have confronted a monopolistic employer – the state – that also controls their unions which are in effect “company unions.” By controlling the unions and containing their wage demands, wages have been held down. The absence of independent unions has permitted the government to implement counterproductive economic policies year after year and has muted the urgency of undertaking economic reforms.

Fiasco #1        Abolition of Freedom of Expression

An important requirement for the sustained effectiveness of an economic system is the ability to freely, openly and continuously analyze and criticize its functioning.  Open analysis and criticism in a context of free generation and diffusion of information provide a necessary spur for self-correction, exposing illegalities, flawed policies and errors.  Free analysis and criticism is vital in order to bring illicit actions to light, to correct errors on the part of all institutions and enterprises as well as policy makers and to help generate improved policy design and implementation. This in turn requires freedom of expression and freedom of association, embedded in an independent press, publications systems and media, independent universities and research institutes, and freely-functioning opposition political parties.

Unfortunately this has been lacking, thanks to the Castro regime.  The media and the politicians have largely performed a cheerleader role, unless issues have been opened up for discussion by the President and the Party.

The near-absence of checks and balances on the policy-making machinery of the state also contributes to obscuring over-riding real priorities and to prolonging and amplifying error.  The National Assembly is dominated by the Communist Party, meets for very short periods of time – four to six days a year – and has a large work load, so that it is unable to serve as a mechanism for undertaking serious analysis and debate of economic or other matters. The cost for Cuba of this situation over the years has been enormous.  It is unfortunate that Cuba lacks the concept and reality of a “Loyal Opposition” within –the electoral system and in civil society.  These are vital for economic efficiency, not to mention, of course, for authentic participatory democracy.

NOTE: For additional articles on various aspects of Fidel Castro’s presidency, see:

Fidel Castro: The Cowardice of Autocracy

Cuba’s Achievements under the Presidency of Fidel Castro: The Top Ten

Fidel’s No-Good Very Bad Day

The “FIDEL” Models Never Worked; Soviet and Venezuelan Subsidization Did

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