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Posted September 20, 2007 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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Raul Castro launches Cuba-wide debate on future

By Marc Frank | Reuters

At workplaces and in neighborhoods across Cuba, people are complaining about the state of their country in a national debate on economic reform opened by acting President Raul Castro.

After years of economic crisis, Cubans are being asked to propose fixes in group discussions after Castro acknowledged in a keynote speech on July 26 that wages are too low and agriculture needs structural reforms to feed the country.

“People were expressing themselves like never before about all the problems in their lives,” a Communist Party member said after attending a meeting. “Raul is raising everyone’s expectations, so he better have some solutions.”

Common complaints range from low wages, which average about $15 a month, and poor services to restrictions on killing your own cow, buying cars and booking rooms in hotels reserved for tourists.

“When the meeting started, nobody wanted to speak, but we were told to speak out frankly about the issues raised by Raul, and everything that affects us,” said Lariza, who sells coffee to her fellow workers to supplement her salary.

Since “temporarily” taking charge of the Cuban government and the Communist Party from his ailing 81-year-old brother Fidel Castro a year ago, Raul Castro has repeatedly called for more debate and constructive criticism.

He also demanded studies from experts on reform proposals to raise productivity, including on the state’s ownership of the economy, which exceeds 90 percent.

But it is not yet clear how far he plans to take reforms, and Fidel Castro pushed similar initiatives in the past.

“Grass-roots debate is not new in Cuba. There was a similar debate led by Fidel in the late 1980s and again in the mid-1990s,” said Rafael Hernandez, editor of “Temas” (Issues), a magazine that for a decade has encouraged limited discussion of controversial issues from race relations to market economics.

The last issue focused on transitions in the former Soviet Union, China and other countries, and featured intellectuals, youth leaders and Cuban officials, many of whom said state control of the economy was not a prerequisite for socialism.

“What’s new is that Fidel is less active and others need to build a new consensus as people are not responding to current policy,” Hernandez said. “Cubans interpret Raul’s call for structural change to mean deep changes in the model, not just a cosmetic change.”


Fidel Castro writes regular essays for the state-run media and officials say he is consulted on important issues, but he has not been seen, even in a photograph, since early June.

In his absence, there is growing pressure to make changes.

“It’s reform or perish! The world and in particular, Latin America and the Caribbean have changed so dramatically that it becomes inevitable to rethink Cuban socialism,” said Domingo Amuchastegui, a former Cuban intelligence officer who defected in the early 1990s and now teaches college in Florida.

Canadian historian and author on Cuba, John Kirk, says Cuba is now better able to consider economic reforms because its finances have recovered thanks to a close alliance with oil-producing Venezuela, generous trade credits from China and high prices for its nickel exports.

“The Cuban government is in the process of seeking innovative approaches to an unusual dilemma,” Kirk said. “The economic situation continues to improve, but inequalities and other problems persist from the long post-Soviet crisis.”

Another complaint in discussion groups has been Cuba’s dual currency system, under which state salaries are paid in pesos and consumer goods are sold in hard currency, the so-called convertible peso.

Authorities have studied unifying the currencies, but economists say economic productivity must come first.

Self-employed Cubans, a minority often attacked by Fidel Castro for getting rich at the expense of state subsidies, have also been invited to debate reforms at neighborhood watch groups, which serve as the eyes and ears of the revolution.

“They read out part of Raul’s speech, and then they asked me if I had any problems working,” said Jacinto, who sells ham and cheese sandwiches and juices from his home, with a state license.

“They asked me if the taxes I paid were too high,” Jacinto said with amazement. Not surprisingly, he said they were.

Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Vales

  1. Follow up post #1 added on September 20, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Several months ago I was leaning towards answering YES to this question posed as the title of this article.

    Today, I have my doubts.

    Interesting that the more I read from bloggers, main stream media journalists and Washington politicians, think tanks etc, the more I realize that NO ONE really knows what Cuba is going to be like after the announcement of Fidel Castro’s death.

    EVERYONE has opinions or beliefs or hopes but NO ONE can make predictions with any unity or certainty.

    So, why should I believe that Raul will be a reformer? Because he alludes to reforms and triples the pay to farmers?

    Even if he has the desire to go full out with Chinese reforms, sounds like Carlos Lage will shut him down.

    I don’t think Raul has the majority of the Cuban government OR the majority of the Cuban people to do ANYTHING. Some will want sweeping reforms quickly. Others will want some reforms slowly. Some will want the same old same old. Some will want a combination.

    So, even if Raul has the desire, he needs a well designed plan AND he needs the support of the government, three military branches and the Cuban people.

    Does Raul Castro strike you as the type of person who can pull something like that?

    From what I have read, I am skeptical.

    So, I say 70% NO and 30% YES as the answer to the title of this article. (This answer assumes that I am wrong about my chaos in Cuba theory after the announcement of Fidel’s death and that Raul actually survives after the announcement.)

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  2. Follow up post #2 added on September 20, 2007 by cubanpete with 127 total posts

    Even if average monthly wages are doubled from $15.00 to $30.00, so what?  The Cuban ship of state is floundering on the rocks, and rearranging the deck chairs won’t help.

    For change (cambio) we can believe in.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on September 20, 2007 by Cuban American

    I agree with cubanpete, even if they were to double or triple the average monthly income the overall affect wouldn’t be much, the only way they can improve there economy is by opening up and allowing private enterprise on a much bigger scale (not just selling sandwiches out of your house).

  4. Follow up post #4 added on September 20, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Is Raul capable of being known as “The Great Reformer”?

    He might want to project that and maybe even present the situation as “good cop, bad cop” with Raul saying that he wants reforms but the Fidelistas won’t let him.

    Probably the only safe prediction is that the level of bullshit will rise to unprecedented levels.

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  5. Follow up post #5 added on September 20, 2007 by lee

    the infrastructure has been ignored for so long, the ship is going down regardless.
    i’m a builder in LA, and from my perspective just on the physical aspect alone.
    over 50% must be razed.
    doling out a few cents will only have ascetic value at best.

  6. Follow up post #6 added on September 20, 2007 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    i’m watching to see if once again we have a parallel to teh collapse of East germany.  When Honnicker was “replaced”  by his deputy Egon Krenz nobody expected any real change since he had been Honicker’s shadow for 30 years.  However a climate was created in which the party’s running the state was basically replaced by a people’s committee which had no real reaction.  There was massive interfering by West Germany which led to the economic collapse of what little was still left, leading to a much greater desire to reunify.  Although the cast of characters is quite difference and teh relationship between teh two Germanys was also very much different than the relationship between Cuba and the USA, I still see a possibility for Cuba to end up going in a similar direction.  Only if Raoul can put through a concrete program of reforms that both the people see as addressing changes they want and that also has some concrete short term results, do I see the above as being ruled out.  (Other East European countries had similar collapses, but because I lived in Berlin at the time, do some of these things hit home more)

  7. Follow up post #7 added on September 20, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    So, let’s have it. What’s your best guess on the days, weeks and months following the announcement of Fidel’s death?

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  8. Follow up post #8 added on September 21, 2007 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    really hard to tell. Think a lot depends on how serious Raoul is in making significant changes, how much he is in control or has the other powerful behind him and how much patience the Cuban people show.
    Another considerable factor is how passive will the USA be - one of the things that accelerated the fall of East Germany was that West Germany kept luring them away with promised of money, housing and jobs, so thousands were leaving every day.
    A third thing to consider is the Army and police etc.  As East Germany started collapsing before the opening of the Berlin Wall, the police were at first quite brutal in putting down protest and mass arests, but then quickly folded, making for the peaceful opening of the Wall and teh collapse of first teh gvernment and tehn the state an almost peaceful event (look at what happened in Romania by contrast)
    For me and anyone close to the East European collapse, Cuba may be deja vu - the whole thing all over again or a whole new ball game.

  9. Follow up post #9 added on September 21, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    I think the Cuban police would not try very hard put down a massive uprising and Raul probably knows that.

    East Germany’s obvious proximity to West Germany might have had something to do with that.

    Cuba’s proximity to the US might have the same effect.

    Also, I don’t see the US government OR the Cuban Americans being passive. Washington will offer billions in aid and the Cuban Americans will get in their boats bringing food, supplies and yes, maybe even guns one way then bringing out relatives on the way out.

    I am getting more and more convinced that Raul does not stand a chance of staying in power for more than a couple months after the announcement of Fidel’s death.

    Remember, we are in a US Presidential election cycle and they are already talking about Cuba. Imagine the hype after Castro’s death. Something for Dems and Republicans to pander about.

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  10. Follow up post #10 added on September 21, 2007 by cubanpete with 127 total posts

    Raul probably has his retirement retreat already selected in Venezuela.  The weather there is so much nicer than in North Korea.

    For change (cambio) we can believe in.

  11. Follow up post #11 added on September 21, 2007 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    if he turns things around significantly and quickly - something i don’t expect but don’t rule out either - he may; otherwise i think you’re right on.

  12. Follow up post #12 added on September 21, 2007 by publisher with 3905 total posts


    Either way it sounds like the announcement of Fidel Castro’s death will be a life altering event for Raul.

    He is either:

    1. secretly a good guy with good intentions who can convince people to support him

    2. a ruthless dictator who will do things his way who can convince people to support him

    3. a liar who is all talk and no action

    4. just a vice president for 48 years with little or no talent, ambition, charisma or support

    See where I’m going with this?

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  13. Follow up post #13 added on September 21, 2007 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    or he could end up like Egon Krenz and basically be a chaiman of the board who tried to keep the sinking ship as orderly as was still possible til he was swept aside and replaced by a citizen’s committee who kind of oversaw the transition to the reunification. Was kind of chaotic, but still more or less orderly ( orderly chaos? )and quite violence free.
    Think a lot will depend on how well he can work with the other power contenders who will become more active after fidel is “officially gone” (either dead or officially incapacitated etc).  Could be wrong, but from limited knowledge I have of him leads me to believe he doesn’t have a long term future as head of state.

  14. Follow up post #14 added on September 22, 2007 by bernie with 199 total posts

    Castro passes on ???  Cubans living in Miami all move back to Cuba????
    Iran bombs israel—- all the Jews move to Miami?????
    Everybody in the world can live in total peace now?????

    This is my best guess following the announcement of Castro’s death?????

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