Speaking of the Cuban economy, I just got back from sunny Miami where I attended the 20th annual conference of ASCE (The Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy).
Perhaps the most interesting and enlightenning panel was on recent changes in Cuban agriculture, 'absurdly' entitled, "Waiting for Godot."
The most revealing paper presented was by the Havana-based Reuters/Financial Times correspondent Marc Frank, who shared his soundings of Cuban farmers as they assessed their experience working under Raul.
I'd say they gave him a collective C-, meaning that they have seen encouraging changes that give them much greater flexibility in planting, growing, transporting, and selling their produce. What Frank described were experiments in slowly phasing out the acopio (the requirement that farmers sell a large portion of their crop to the state at a fixed price).
While this is indeed encouraging, the downside is that for every positive development farmers can cite 2-3 continued bureaucratic or political obstacles in their way.
In other words, they appreciate the changes but point out that there's a LONG way still to go and that the government moves painfully slowly with any reforms.
I'll see if Frank shares his assessment with readers in the coming days.
Cuba to Cut Workers and Relax Business Rules
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: August 02, 2010
HAVANA (AP) - The Cuban government will scale back controls on small businesses, lay off unnecessary workers and allow more self-employment, President Raúl Castro said Sunday, major steps in a country where the state dominates nearly every facet of the economy.
But Mr. Castro, speaking at the opening session of Parliament, also scoffed at what he said was media speculation that Cuba planned sweeping economic changes to dig itself out of a financial crisis. "With experience accumulated in more than 55 years of revolutionary struggle, it doesn't seem like we're doing too badly, nor that desperation or frustration have been our companions along the way," he said.
About 95 percent of all Cubans work for the government, a sector Mr. Castro called "considerably bloated." Those who are laid off, he said, will be retrained or reassigned.
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