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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Say It Ain’t So, Fidel!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Say It Ain’t So, Fidel!

Jeff Goldberg of the Atlantic, with the aid of Julia Sweig, a Latin American scholar at the Council of Foreign Relations, write on a fascinating interview with Fidel Castro in “Fidel: 'Cuban Model Doesn't Even Work For Us Anymore'.”  Goldberg asked Castro about the Cuban economy. He writes,
“The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore,” he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, "Never mind"?

I asked Julia to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, "He wasn't rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under 'the Cuban model' the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country."
I’m not sure what constitutes “rejecting the ideas of the Revolution,” but rejecting state ownership seems important.  Goldberg continues, 
Julia pointed out that one effect of such a sentiment might be to create space for his brother, Raul, who is now president, to enact the necessary reforms in the face of what will surely be push-back from orthodox communists within the Party and the bureaucracy.  Raul Castro is already loosening the state's hold on the economy. He recently announced, in fact, that small businesses can now operate and that foreign investors could now buy Cuban real estate. (The joke of this new announcement, of course, is that Americans are not allowed to invest in Cuba, not because of Cuban policy, but because of American policy. In other words, Cuba is beginning to adopt the sort of economic ideas that America has long-demanded it adopt, but Americans are not allowed to participate in this free-market experiment because of our government's hypocritical and stupidly self-defeating embargo policy. We'll regret this, of course, when Cubans partner with Europeans and Brazilians to buy up all the best hotels).
The emphasis added to Goldberg’s point is mine, and I couldn’t agree more.  It will be ironic if we don’t recognize that we’ve won.  The Obama administration has taken small steps to normalized relations with Cuba and it should take more.  Those steps should be overwhelmingly supported by both parties and the Cuban community in Florida.  Is our government’s goal to punish the Cuban government or aid the Cubans by promoting a market system and democracy?

In twenty years, Fidel’s and Rual’s progeny along with those of loyal communists will be wealthy crony capitalists.  Our embargo will not change that.  The people of Cuba will be better off under a corrupt capitalist government with too much military influence, whether or not we normalize relations with the island state.  Somehow I believe that we, meaning Americans, could nudge Cubans in a positive direction, not through government channels, but direct trade, travel and other interactions between the people of Cuba and the United States. 

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