Is Communist Cuba Now Home to 'Filthy Capitalist' Entrepreneurs?

AP Photo/Ismael Francisco

The NY Times has a story up today about the hot new trend of capitalism sweeping communist Cuba. Whether this trend is real and how long it will last is an open question. For the moment, Cuba is in desperate need of all of the help it can get.

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Today Cuba is confronting its worst financial crisis in decades, driven by government inefficiency and mismanagement and a decades-long U.S. economic embargo that has led to a collapse in domestic production, rising inflation, constant power outages and shortages of fuel, meat and other necessities.

So the island’s communist leaders are turning back the clock and embracing private entrepreneurs, a class of people they once vilified as “filthy” capitalists...

“Never has the private sector been given so much space to operate in Cuba,” said Pavel Vidal, who studies Cuba’s economy and is a university professor in Cali, Colombia. “The government is bankrupt, so it has no other choice but to invite other actors in.”

But there's some skepticism about all of this from Cuban-American politicians in Florida. Anti-communist U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar held a congressional hearing in January titled "The Myth of the New Cuban Entrepreneurs: An Analysis of the Biden Administration’s Cuba Policy." 

The congresswoman shares the view of many Cuban exiles in Miami that much of this supposed free enterprise is baloney. They know that everything on the island, including toilet paper, is under government control. Only the elites in power could hope to operate a private business.

The boastful claims of flashes of capitalism on the island from Cuba officials — including allowing a hand-picked group of Cuban entrepreneurs to meet with the Miami Herald editorial board last year — are hollow, Salazar believes. She considers these efforts “a new scheme from the regime which is desperate for millions of dollars to violate the American market” — not to mention also circumventing the U.S. embargo on the island.

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Salazar's hearing led to the unusual spectacle of communist officials in Cuba arguing that capitalism really was a going concern in the country

Cuba’s vice minister for the economy, Johana Odriozola, offered a rare interview to CNN en Español, according to Miami Herald Cuba Reporter Nora Gamez Torres.

“Nobody in their right mind can talk about something that really exists being a myth,” Odriozola said in the interview. “We are not talking about something small; we are talking about more than 10,000 micro, small and medium-sized companies.”

As amusing as that is, the scope of capitalism on the island is still pretty limited. Meanwhile, the situation is dire in Cuba and people are voting with their feet.

The worsening living conditions triggered a rare public display of unhappiness in March as hundreds of people took to the streets of Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second-largest city, chanting, “Power and food,” according to social media and official government reports.

The economic hardships have set off an enormous surge in emigration. Since 2022, roughly 500,000 Cubans have left the island, an extraordinary exodus for a country of 11 million, and most Cubans who have left have gone to the United States.

It does sound as if some capitalism has sprung up in Cuba but as the Times points out, Cuba has experimented with capitalism before, usually when they are desperate. But as soon as their situation stabilizes, they always go back to a clampdown on filthy capitalism. That's what is bound to happen again. The moment the government decides the capitalists are no longer needed, they will be banned and anything valuable they have created will be seized.

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The topic seems to have drawn a lot of communist know-nothings into the comments but there are a few sensible people.

Visited Cuba with National Geographic. My opinion is the People want to be friends with Americans.  The progressives should visit too.  I don't want to get political but socialism doesn't work.  I know they will say American policy is the fault.  No free elections, this is the result.  Many of our youngsters idolize Che and Fidel.  If they knew the history and not the Hollywood myth, they wouldn't.

Well said.

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John Stossel 5:30 PM | July 13, 2024
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