Cuba Is Militarizing (Not Privatizing)

Thursday, November 18, 2010
The Sun-Sentinel's Guillermo I. Martinez asks an important question, which is glossed over by foreign media outlets in Havana:

Is Cuba privatizing the economy, or militarizing it?

If one were to ask me in a survey what I thought of Cuba's economic moves, I would reply quickly and without any reservations, "Mark me as confused."

Many who know much more about what is happening inside the Castro brothers' private island say that we should pay attention to the changes in Cuba. They point to the 500,000 state employees who will lose their jobs; to the end of the rationing card; to the rights now given to Cubans to work for themselves, and even to hire some employees.

They say that Raúl Castro's view that Cuba's economy cannot survive without dramatic changes has prevailed. His older brother Fidel has been relegated to talking and writing about international politics, nuclear holocaust and other lofty subjects.

All this is supposed to be formalized at a congress of Cuba's ruling Communist Party in April. Such meetings are supposed to be held every five years, but the last time the party assembly met was in 1997. In the meantime, Cubans are supposed to abide by a 32-page booklet called "guidelines for economic policy."

Yet, despite all the hoopla, all these changes in Cuba can be reversed just as quickly as they were approved. It has happened before. Most publications mention Cuba's brief flirtation with private enterprises when the Soviet Union stopped sending subsidies to the island in 1991. Back then, Cubans were allowed to rent rooms in their homes to tourists, and to open small restaurants called "paladares."

That opening lasted only until Venezuela began subsidizing Cuba's government. Government regulations then overburdened the private businesses, and soon all that was a thing of the past.

And it had happened before, too. In 1979, Cuba allowed small farmers to sell the products they harvested in small plots of land in open markets. But when farmers began to make money, they were arrested and their properties confiscated.

So you can see why I am confused about all the "new changes" in Cuba. Time will tell if they will last or if they will just be a placeholder until Cuba finds a new "sugar daddy."

There is another change in Cuba that is taking place, however, without much fanfare. The government is accusing civilian government officials who manage government entities of corruption, arresting them and replacing them with military men.

Cuba's armed forces are the most efficient institution on the island. Its holding company, called GAESA, is run by Luis Alberto Rodríguez, who happens to be Raúl Castro's son-in-law. Most of Cuba's state-run enterprises are in the hands of the military.

Some will say Cuba is privatizing its economy. Others might say it is militarizing its most important parts. Take your pick. I'm still confused.