Cuba is sometimes idealized as a successful counter model to capitalism. This month, however, the University of Chicago’s NORC released a study about the opinions of Cuba’s population. The findings of the poll were clear: Cubans want capitalism.
The Cuban people are ready and willing to improve their lives, but the government prevents them from doing so.
This kind of information was not previously available because the Cuban government repressed information in and out of the island. As such, the study, based on in-person interviews with 840 randomly chosen adults, gives a rare glimpse into the sentiments of Cubans about the system under which they live.
Cubans on Cuba
65 percent of interviewees said they want to privatize more businesses and decentralize the economy. 68 percent see competition as a positive way to promote ideas and as a motivator to work hard. Many Cubans have an entrepreneurial mindset with 56 percent of the people planning to start a business in the next 5 years. To compare, 57 percent of Americans plan to become entrepreneurs. The Cuban people are ready and willing to improve their lives, but the government prevents them from doing so.
Further, only 13 percent of the population thinks the Cuban economy is doing well. GDP shrunk by almost one percent last year. Venezuela, one of Cuba’s main benefactors, had to reduce its oil deliveries by 60 percent due to their own economic crisis, which has had a heavy impact on Cuba’s GDP.
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At the end of January, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., introduced the Agricultural Export Expansion Act aimed at removing restrictions on United States agricultural exports to Cuba. Following the steps of 16 other states, Virginia also launched its Engage Cuba State Council, an initiative of the Cuba Engagement Coalition that seeks to promote trade and travel with Cuba and eventually lift the embargo.
Supporters of these initiatives believe ending the embargo will alleviate Cuban poverty while helping state economies grow. The president of Engage Cuba, James Williams, said the Agricultural Expansion Act would “increase US agricultural exports, create jobs across the country, and provide the Cuban people with high-quality American food.” While these efforts are an important step in improving American relations with the Caribbean country, Cuba also needs to reform its system of import taxation for trade liberalization to have its desired effect.
The U.S. embargo against Cuba has been controversial since it was implemented in the 1960s. Opponents of the embargo argue that restricting the population’s access to cheap foreign goods makes the country poorer and gives the government someone to blame for its widespread poverty. Proponents of the embargo believe that it is the one thing keeping the Communist Party of Cuba in check, providing justice for dissidents and keeping money out of the pockets of regime officials.
While they have valid arguments, advocates on both sides are missing an important factor: whether or not an external embargo exists, most goods will never reach the Cuban people because of a state-imposed internal embargo.
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With the death of Fidel Castro, many are wondering what the future holds for Cuba. Could the island nation finally free itself from the chains of communism with the Dear Leader finally dead? A recent trip I took to Vietnam gives me hope for Cuba’s successful transition to a market economy.
In all likelihood, an economic sea change isn’t likely to sweep the Caribbean country immediately. Nevertheless, Cuba has taken some positive steps towards a market economy in recent years. In 2011, President Raul Castro legalized private property, allowing citizens to buy and sell their homes and farmers to cultivate a portion of their land for profit. This year brought even more optimistic changes, with many United States embargo restrictions on travel and trade lifted, facilitating the freer flow of goods and services.
Historically speaking, Cuba is likely to join most other so-called “communist” countries still standing today by embracing more capitalist reforms. While China, Laos and Vietnam are all red in theory, in practice the three Asian countries have enjoyed some of the fastest economic growth in recent decades because of free market reforms. North Korea is arguably the last true communist holdout, with the state completely owning the means of production to disastrous results.
This odd juxtaposition of communist ideology with capitalist practice was on full display when I visited Vietnam in November. The monuments and museums are still filled with propaganda. Nearly every mention of the Vietnam War is presented in black and white, as “imperialists” versus “patriots.” Granted, that time period wasn’t exactly the brightest for American foreign policy, but the communist recollection is so biased to the point of humor. While strolling through Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum, for example, I couldn’t help but laugh at a panel claiming to show a photograph of South Vietnamese soldiers “drinking blood and swearing to destroy the communists.”
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