Cuba’s economy remains a basket case; a fact recognized publicly, if only indirectly, earlier this month when President Raul Castro authorized the country’s official labor union to lay off more than 500,000 state workers between now and next March. Cuba is the only overtly communist country in the western hemisphere; and its leaders — Raul and his older brother Fidel — have ruled the country with an iron fist since the 1959 revolution ensconced them in power. The country always has prided itself on standing up to the “evil” capitalist system personified by the United States. For either of the Castro brothers to make even a tacit admission that their beloved communism has failed, is a major concession.
Whether this move to even slightly reduce the massive government employment sector (85% of the island’s 5.5 million workers, according to the Wall Street Journal) turns out to be a serious move toward a true, open economy — one that actually allows and fosters international trade with other countries, including the U.S. — remains to be seen. It does, however, appear to be the opening political gambit in that direction.
Even with this reduction in Cuba’s public-sector workforce (even barbers are state employees), the obstacles to being able to make a living in the private sector, especially as a self-employed person, are daunting. However, as with China a generation ago, once the door to enhanced economic freedom is cracked open, it becomes virtually impossible to then close it completely. While it is certainly not a zero-sum game, historically speaking, economic freedom fosters political freedom. Hopefully, this latest step reflects a growing awareness within Cuba’s ruling elite that a stifiling, state-run economy will only continue to make Cuba’s ailing economy worse.
If this results in once again being able to legally puchase Cuban cigars in these United States, then I say such a change cannot come soon enough.