Cuba: Out Of The Shadows Of Communism Comes Commerce
Religion & Liberty Online

Cuba: Out Of The Shadows Of Communism Comes Commerce

In 1956, Fidel Castro, along with Che Guevara, led a guerrilla war on the island nation of Cuba. By 1959, Castro was sworn in as prime minister, and began leading the country down the destructive path of Communistic ideation. (Due to his poor health, Castro has now turned over the reins of the government to his brother Raul.)

Under Castro, religious organizations, churches and schools have been all but decimated. He took control of student organizations and professional groups. Private property was confiscated, including businesses, farms, and factories. Hundreds of thousands were imprisoned as political prisoners.

Yet now, it appears that Cuba is beginning to emerge from the shadows of the Communist regime. According to the New York Times, Cubans are beginning to experience entrepreneurship and the financial rewards that come with that.

“If people have a little more money to spend, they look for ways to spend it,” said Mr. Alejandro, who works at a state-owned recording studio by day and builds Web sites for his own clients by night. “Now, you have a few more options for going out and entertaining yourself.”

Mr. Alejandro is part of a small, but increasingly visible, consumer class in Cuba whose appetite for luxuries, albeit modest ones by American standards, has caught the eye of the island’s entrepreneurs.

Some savvy businesspeople are transforming their homes and garages into small movie theaters, others are renting out swimming pools or opening sports bars, cafes with video games, carwashes and even pet-grooming shops.

Some credit Raul Castro with opening up more opportunities for private business development, and now, about 1 million Cubans work in the private sector. In a country where everyone is supposed to be paid $19 a month, and everything from food to medicine to toilet paper is rationed, the ability to make money through private enterprise is a welcome one. This is not to say there still aren’t problems with Cuba’s economy.

Some worry that the economic changes — which have generated a busy retail sector and thousands of food kiosks, bars and restaurants, but almost nothing in the way of manufacturing — have created an aura of well-being that belies Cuba’s staggering lack of production.

“On the positive side, the private sector is raising the quality of services,” said Lenier González, co-editor of Espacio Laical, a magazine financed by the Roman Catholic Church. “But it is not linked to the production of tangible goods,” he added. “It’s just money in a closed circuit.”

Unless the government stimulates production and raises state salaries, the social fissure will widen, Mr. González said.

“The country is fractured,” he said. “There are people who have money and people who don’t. Nowadays, it’s more obvious.”

The best way to encourage financial growth is through free markets, rule of law and fair competition. Obviously, in a nation stifled by Communism for 60 years, this won’t be easy to integrate, but it is clear that commerce is emerging from the shadows of Communism.


Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.