Sunday, March 13, 2011

WHERE ARE YOU HEADED FIDEL?

Some months ago (see my September 30, 2010 blog) I commented about how Fidel was proposing to refloat his flagging economy by allowing Cubans to start small businesses, the idea being that those who had access to money in the US would ask friends and relatives there to finance the establishment of micro enterprises on the island.

Surprisingly, the ponderously slow-moving Cuban bureaucracy has somehow managed to issue over 75,000 licenses to budding entrepreneurs by the end of 2010 thereby almost doubling the number of officially self-employed people. Of course, there is a way to go yet – according to the Cuban labor federation, within the next thirty days Raul expects to lay off about half a million of the over 4 million workers employed by the State (about 80 per cent of those who have jobs in Cuba).

Although most of the new entrepreneurs are earning more now than they were when their government paid them $20 per month as bureaucrats, they have started to worry about whether the market will support hundreds of thousands of freelancers. What is certain, though, is that the fledgling businesses are winning hearts and minds: people like to see drab streets coming to life as freshly painted signs and colorful awnings start to appear not only in Havana but also in towns right across the Republic.


An interesting side effect of this development is its impact on state-run enterprises: people prefer to frequent establishments run by private owners rather than by the State because they get better service and more value for their money. Thus, the freelancers do not only represent an emerging new middle class, but also real competition for state-owned businesses that have now begun to lose custom at an alarming rate.

Meanwhile, the Castro Brothers are preparing for the VI Congress of the Cuban Communist Party at which it is presumed the party’s Polit Bureau will evaluate the situation of the country’s affairs, the problems it faces, and the solutions the Bureau proposes to overcome them.

Presumably those militants invited to the Congress will be allowed to comment and ask questions. One of the questions is bound to be: WHITHER FIDEL CASTRO?

Will he stand for ‘re-election’ for the post of First Secretary of the Party? Will he cede this, the most powerful post in the land, to his brother, Raul? Will he content himself to be Number Two not only in law but in fact as well?

Or will he just fade away? (I DOUBT IT.)

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