When Raul Castro began assuming power from Fidel in 2008, there were hopes he would open up the Cuban economy. The Obama administration relaxed some restrictions on travel and remittances in 2009. In late 2010, the Cuban government allowed citizens to open private businesses. Cell phone use on the island increased. And this past April, the government vowed to shift 40 percent of Cuba’s economic output to the non state sector within five years.As the New York Times reports, those plans have stalled in the face of resistance from conservative party apparatchiks:
Those awaiting measures to create even more opportunity for private business got the opposite last week, when news spread of a little-advertised government decision to charge steep customs duties on the informal imports, from Miami and elsewhere, that are the lifeblood of many young businesses.“This could have a huge impact,” said Emilio Morales, president of the Miami-based Havana Consulting Group, who said state-owned shops in Cuba were losing business to street vendors. “It shows the state isn’t ready to compete with the private sector.”
Raul recently expressed concern that too many reforms, introduced too quickly, could unleash the kind of turmoil that dissolved the Soviet Union. I’ve been watching Cuba fairly closely for almost 20 years, and during all that time, sweeping economic reform has always been just around the corner.It still is.