I have to admit I was extremely disappointed with the selection of Vice Presidents under Raul Castro. It gave the me and the world a very strong impression that Cuban politics would remain the same since Raul surrounded himself with comrades from La Revolucion.
I have remained skeptical about change in Cuba (as we all should) but I must admit that I am surprised by the rapid fire announcements of new or eased policies in Cuba since Raul became President. All the reforms listed below have been announced in the past 30 days. I have to admit I am surprised and impressed but still skeptical.
I started this post (and will update it going forward) to list the reforms that have been announced since Raul Castro was selected as President of Cuba.
1. February 24 Let’s start with Raul Castro’s acceptance speech
2. February 28 Cuba signs two UN human rights treaties
3. February 29 Raul meets with top Vatican Cardinal and talks about a release of political prisoners with conditions.
4. March 13 Cuba lifts ban on ownership of electronics
5. March 18 Cuba allows farmer’s to buy their own equipment and not just rely on the Cuban government for agricultural supplies, tools and equipment.
6. March 21 Cuba launches emigration web site after hosting a conference talking with Cubans living abroad.
7. March 21 Granma features letters to the Editor
8. March 21 Cuba releases rare economic report that talks frankly about economic life in Cuba.
10. March 25 Cuba lifts restrictions on Cuba pharmacy sales
11. March 28 Raul Castro allows Cuban people to own cellphones
12. March 31 Cuba allows citizens to stay in tourist hotels.
14. April 3 Cuba to broadcast new foreign information television channel. Not quite sure this qualifies as a reform but I’ll allow it since it fits in the with spirit of reforms.
15. April 8 Cuba restructures the family doctor program Sounds good if the government plans to offer better quality healthcare.
16. April 10 Cuban farmers can have unlimited salaries Wow, what a concept!
17. April 11 Renters will get title of ownership for housing I’d say this is a big move. Sure the military and other good government workers will most likely be the beneficiaries but now we’re up to 17 reforms in seven weeks. QUITE the pace Raul has set for himself. Will the Cuban people demand more or be thankful? What about then the reforms stop. My guess is that Fidel is quite ill and Raul wants to capture peoples’ attention in a positive way so there is no disruption. So, that’s what I’m saying. Of course we have all been wrong about Fidel’s health in the past but all the pieces of the puzzle are in place if you ask me.
18. April 28 In comment #26 below Marc Frank from Reuters reports that Cuba has raised the social security payments to retired workers and court employees. After reading the amount of the pay raises, I think you’ll agree with me and say “So what?”.
19. April 28 In comment #31 below Raul is calling to convene the first Communist Party congress since 1997. Although this may not be a “reform”, I’m going to list it here since it hasn’t been done since 1997 and could very well lead to more posts in this article. I don’t see the date mentioned anywhere.
20. April 29 Death sentences in Cuba commuted so does this mean prisoners can get out of jail for time served?
21. May 25 Cuba will eliminate its dual currency system “as soon as possible” according to an official quoted in a Spanish newspaper today. We searched for another source but it has not yet been verified or reported in another source. However, we’ll list it here unless it turns out to be false. Note: It’s been almost one month since Raul has announced any more reforms. Is he done? Did he give the people just enough for now so they are “happy”?
22. June 11 Cuba to pay worker’s based on performance - Wow, what a novel concept. Why did Fidel fight this for 50 years. Is anybody really saying “Nah, this will never work”?
23. July 11 Cuban government to allow for private taxis - Certainly a great gesture but actual implementation will need to be watched. How many licenses will be given out? What areas can they cover? What hours can they work? Of course little details like that can change the entire story.
24. July 11 Cuban government to decentralize construction projects - Doesn’t mean there are going to be independent contractors by any means but at least it is a loosening of the tightly controlled central economy from Havana.
25. July 20 President Raul Castro to allow Cuban farm land grants - This is a great thing for the Cuban people. I’m not sure how many strings are attached but on the surface this sounds like a great plan. Of course you’ll see that the grantees cannot sell or trade their interest though.
So, what do you think? When I look at all these “changes” in a short period of time, I have to step back and think that maybe Raul is serious about making changes in Cuba. However, I am waiting to see it before I really believe it. As with most news from Cuba, it’s all propaganda since there is no free press in Cuba so none of this can really be questioned, independently verified or investigated.