Review of reforms in Cuba

Since Fidel Castro, long time Cuban leader, stepped down as president in 2008, his younger brother Raúl Castro assumed the office. Since then Cuba, previously embracing old soviet-style economic and political policies, has begun to change. Whilst it would be naïve to state that Cuba is moving toward democratic and open society, the reforms undertaken by R. Castro are having a real impact on Cuban population.

Changing political framework

Cuban President Raúl Castro has upheld his pledge to limit political terms in office to 10 years, as the country’s Communist Party ended its two-day national conference in Havana. In a closing speech to the party’s delegates on Sunday, Castro said that a constitutional amendment would be required but that leaders should begin to adopt the practice even before it formally took effect. The 80-year-old leader has spoken previously about limiting high-ranking officials, including himself, to two five-year terms.

Recently a Cuban official told The Associated Press news agency that despite the lack of movement in visible roles like cabinet ministers, many mid-level government posts have quietly changed hands, with younger officials moving up. By doing so R. Castro is preparing necessary reforms in order not only to ensure the continuity of the communist rule, but also to respond to a need for generational change within Cuba. The Communist Party newspaper Granma wrote that during congress of the Communist Party delegates would consider how best to promote women, blacks and young people through the ranks of the party and government. They will also evaluate the party’s role in “the direction and systematic control of the process of updating the economic model and the progress of the economy”, Granma reported.

Reforming economy

Rules allowing Cubans to buy and sell cars and homes, and now, to take out loans, are two of the latest steps taken to “modernise” the economy. Some 500 bank offices throughout the country began receiving and processing applications for loans in Cuban pesos to non-state workers, farmers and people who need to repair or build their homes. Credits also will be available in the future for purchasing personal items. The new credit policy is governed by Decree-Law 289 and other resolutions issued in November that went into effect almost a month later. Until recently, only farming cooperatives had access to loans. The new loan policy is aimed at contributing to the growth of private enterprise, which is supposed to absorb hundreds of thousands of employees slashed from the public workforce. The total number of self-employed workers, known as “cuentapropistas”, is now estimated at more than 300,000 – twice as many as last year. The number of licensed trades and activities for cuentapropistas was expanded to 181, and the taxes they pay have been cut.

The new bank loan policy follows the legalisation of the buying and selling of motor vehicles and homes. A decades-long ban on those sales had fed a lucrative black market. The two measures were among the most anxiously awaited by the Cuban population. “I’m not planning on selling, but it is very important for me to know that I am the owner of my house and my car, and have every right over them,” commented Manuel Martínez, a 55-year-old engineer. He added that he was looking at options for private work to raise his income. “I have to see how the credits work, because I really don’t have anything to start with,” he said. Another man, a plumber who did not wish to give his name, said that he was more interested in the possibility of hiring out his services to state companies.

Reconciliation with Catholic Church

Following the 1959 Cuban Revolution, as Fidel Castro, the former president, increasingly embraced Marxism and the Soviet Union, anti-clerical actions increased. Authorities discouraged Christmas celebrations, closed religious schools in 1962 and barred Communist Party membership to people of religious belief. But relations began easing after the Cold War. Cuba removed references to atheism from the constitution in the 1990s and allowed believers of all faiths to join the Communist Party. In 1998, Castro shed his trademark olive-green fatigues for a business suit and a tie and greeted John Paul personally at the airport on his arrival at the island.

The relationships between the Catholic Church and Cuba have improved significantly in the recent decade. Vatican has officially announced that Pope Benedict XVI will visit Cuba in the spring. Such visit would certainly improve Cuba’s image around the globe and could further accelerate reforms taken by R. Castro and the Communist Party. Pope Benedict will be coming to Cuba as a pilgrim to honour the 400th anniversary of the appearance of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, the patroness of Cuba. Cuba’s church has played an increasingly important role in Cuba in recent years, helping  to negotiate the release of political prisoners in 2009 and 2010, and even consulting Castro and his advisers on free-market changes that he is pushing to save the island’s economy from ruin.


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