Cuba gives 'socialism lite' a try as recession deepens

The Miami HeraldOctober 14, 2009 

Cuba's workplace cafeterias are closing, President Raúl Castro keeps saying the well-off shouldn't get the same subsidies as the poor, and now there are rumblings that one of the stalwart vestiges of the revolution -- the ration booklet -- has outlived its usefulness.

As the Cuban government struggles through a deep recession, its leaders have begun picking away at socialism in order to save it. But experts say the latest buzz by the Cuban government is simply another desperate fix to stem the slide of a failed economy that buckled long ago.

Even one of Havana's leading economists recently said Cuba's economy needed to be turned upside down -- "feet up." So taxi drivers got private licenses, farmers now have their own plots of land and government workers have to pack their own lunches.

"I think what they are trying to do is prepare the people for a hard landing," said Cuba expert Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado of the University of Nebraska. "The government is really saying in so many words: We've got limited resources and can only do so much. I think they are stuck."

Since he took office early last year, Raúl Castro has been saying that the country's severely battered economy needs fixing. In a widely quoted August speech, Castro said Cuba was spending more than it made.

"Nobody, no individual nor country, can indefinitely spend more than she or he earns. Two plus two always adds up to four, never five," he said. "Within the conditions of our imperfect socialism, due to our own shortcomings, two plus two often adds up to three."

In the 18 months since he took office, Castro restructured the nation's agricultural system to give idle land to farmers, hoping they would revive a deeply troubled state-run agricultural industry plagued by inefficiency. He also allowed taxi drivers to have private licenses; many were working illegally anyway.

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