Seismic Shift Ahead for Cuban Labor Force?
Ever since Raul Castro stepped in for his brother Fidel more than four years ago, and officially was elected President by the Cuban National Assembly 30 months ago, he has repeatedly highlighted the shortcomings of the current Cuban economic model and promised to reform it. First he announced a few mainly cosmetic, but symbolically meaningful changes like authorizing Cubans to set up their own cell phone accounts, ending an unwritten policy that kept most Cubans from patronizing tourist facilities occupied by foreigners, and allowing Cubans to purchase high-energy consuming electronics like toasters.
He then followed those measures with a long, drawn out reform of the country’s agriculture sector in hopes of reducing the country’s foreign grocery bill (Cuba reduced purchases due to a liquidity crunch, but the reforms have yet to reliably increase domestic crop production appreciably), including by giving Cubans land tracts in “usufruct” to farm and sell both to the state and in their own communities. One reason the reforms have sputtered was the delay of associated reforms, such as last month’s announcement that Cuban farmers could now purchase their supplies and equipment in stores, rather than wait (and wait) for an unreliable supply chain to get to them. That could certainly help, especially if the supplies are actually available in the stores.
From the outside, and from the inside too, the reforms were interminably long in coming and short on impact. They signaled things were heading in a more constructive direction, but simply didn’t reach enough people. But as Marc Frank reports from Havana, a possibly “seismic shift” now appears to be on its way.
Before I move on to the interesting details, let’s be sure to put “seismic” in perspective. Many in Washington and Miami dream of a U.S.-style free market economy in Cuba. To be sure, that’s not on the near-team horizon. But to move half a million workers (out of a workforce of 5 million) into non-state sector jobs, that’s a change many Cubans will actually feel. According to labor union document circulating among senior Communist Party officials:
"Job options will be increased and broadened with new forms of non-state employment, among them leasing land, cooperatives and self-employment, absorbing hundreds of thousands of workers in the coming years," it said.
According to Communist party sources who have seen the detailed plan to "reorganize the labor force," Cuba expects to issue 250,000 new licenses for self-employment by the close of 2011, almost twice the current number, and create 200,000 other non-state jobs.
The government's definition of self-employment includes many entities that are essentially small businesses, including such things as family-run restaurants and cafeterias, auto repair shops and jobs in the building trades.
The non-state jobs will include, among other things, workers hired by the small businesses, taxi drivers who will now lease their cabs from the state and employees of small state businesses to be converted to cooperatives.”