February 24, 2008


In Cuba, Hopes for a New Capitalist Season: Castro Resignation Could Open a Path For Small Businesses (Manuel Roig-Franzia, 2/24/08, Washington Post)

[Idalberto] Estrada's experience as a mini-capitalist in this socialist nation was made possible by a mid-1990s reform that legalized about 150 types of micro-businesses and was pushed for by Fidel Castro's brother, Raúl. Fidel, 81, announced his retirement Tuesday after half a century of dominance, and Raul, 76, is expected to be named president when the National Assembly meets Sunday.

Estrada and the 100,000 to 150,000 other self-employed Cubans provide a glimpse of what the future might look like here, and help explain some of the low-intensity excitement about the possibility of historic change. Estrada sometimes earns three or four times what he made before quitting the Cuban navy six years ago, when his pay was the equivalent of $17 a month. He still struggles to make ends meet, but he is much better off than the overwhelming majority of his neighbors who live in rotting homes with spotty plumbing and have to feed themselves on state salaries as low as $11 a month.

Raul, who has been interim president in the 19 months since Fidel underwent multiple intestinal surgeries, has stoked hopes of even more dramatic change by hinting for months about "structural and conceptual" shifts in Cuba's economy. Economists and many islanders see much in Raul's track record to suggest that he may expand private business opportunities and perhaps even restore some of the vaunted mid-1990s reforms that his all-powerful brother dismantled.

"I see it as a great possibility that Raul will make changes to Cuba's economy," Óscar Espinosa Chepe, a former Cuban government economist and diplomat who was imprisoned in a 2003 crackdown on dissidents, said in an interview. "He is much more pragmatic than his brother."

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 24, 2008 7:06 AM
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