Fifty years ago communist governments were prevalent throughout the world, buoyed by the rising international hegemony of the Soviet Union. However after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, one by one, a vast majority of communist nations collapsed under domestic and international pressure and now only 5 communist countries remain: Cuba being the only one in the Western Hemisphere.
Located in the Caribbean, Cuba remains the last outpost of Soviet style communism in the Western Hemisphere, and was led by Fidel Castro from 1959-2006 and by Raul Castro from 2006 to the present. Recently in the latter part of 2010, Raul Castro began to initiate a series of economic reforms that aimed to transform the command economy of Cuba, and promote a blossoming of grassroots entrepreneurship. In addition, since the rise of Raul Castro into the presidency, the numerous social restrictions of average Cubans have been lifted, such as the right to own a cell phone, the right to hire a small amount of workers in local businesses, and the right to travel abroad without an exit permit. Although these reforms seem to stem from a growing demand by Cubans for change in a country where veterans of the 1959 Cuban Revolution have run the political bureaucracy, in actuality the lack of political reforms elude to the initiation of reforms based on economic pragmatism.
In a country that bases it’s entire political legitimacy on the notion that, since the 1959 revolution, inequality between it’s citizens has significantly diminished, any admittance of flaws in the government controlled economy would start to weaken the foundation the nation was founded on. Therefore Cuba has been announcing minor economic reforms that have the best interest of the state in mind, and not the individual, which was shown when Cuba allowed farmer’s to sell a portion of their produce directly to restaurant and stores, instead of going through a government middleman. In effect these kinds of reforms provide workers with incentives to make a small profit, and according to the Cuban government’s reasoning, would increase productivity in a country where, due to the widely applied income cap on workers, workers in the tourist sector can earn more than doctors.
Throughout this series of reforms, senior party members have been keen to stress that Cuba is not adopting the capitalist model of economy, and are instead moving towards “improving” the communist model, drawing analysts to conclude that Cuba’s ultimate goal is to follow the Chinese model, in which the state controls the key industries and the political order remains the same. In this case Cuba would have the best of both world by retaining absolute control over the populace politically, while at the same time maintaining a leading role in the economy through controlling key industries such as the sugar, copper, and tourist industries. However, by following the Chinese model of governance Cuba risks inciting unrest, since as more and more people turn towards grassroots entrepreneurship, the restraints such as high income taxes and duties on imported goods put in place to mitigate any accumulation of capital by individuals, would create an underlying feeling of resentment towards the government as an obstacle towards success. This would be in contrast to the goal of the government to be viewed as an entity that provides goods and services for its citizens, through the distribution of rations, free healthcare, and free education.
One major noticeable shift in the political dynamics of the nation is the recent consideration by the Cuban government regarding overturning the ban on 3-D cinemas in Cuba. On November 2, the Communist Party newspaper Granma announced a “ban on the dozens of private home cinemas and video game salons that have mushroomed in recent months, becoming a popular diversion for entertainment-starved residents”. However, in light of the backlash by residents and 3-D cinema owners who invested their limited capital into importing the expensive equipment needed for these types of cinemas, the Cuban government has hinted that the ban may be lifted. This was hinted through a Granma article which mentioned that after collecting 150 opinions on the ban, and surveying a rising tide of negative backlash on social media, that the initial reasoning behind the ban might have been incompatible with the current package of reforms. The controversy surrounding the ban on 3-D cinemas marks on of the very few times the government has acknowledged that a decision was not for the best interest of society, and more importantly demonstrates the increasing accountability the government now endures, due to the rise of social media and a new generation of globally connected youth.
While the ongoing reforms in Cuba are not expected to completely change the communist structure that the nation was founded on in 1959, without a doubt, these reforms will produce an essentially irreversible mixed economy. The government will maintain an iron fist over the political realm, while relenting to the increasing demands for more social and economic freedoms. Although the days of Fidel Castro’s fiery foreign policy motives are over, in the short term, Cuba will still be bastion of communism in the Americas.