Not spring in Cuba yet

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Not spring in Cuba yet

Not spring in Cuba yet
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Complaints about a growing wealth gap similar to those in many of the world’s struggling economies are building in communist Cuba as well.

This is in spite of reforms by the Raul Castro government, trying to tweak the one-party island’s socialist model, to raise living standards.

Economic growth last year was a nominal 3.1 percent, falling slightly short of the goal, which this year is 3.7 percent.

Castro has pried up the lid slightly on private initiative. The government still controls four-fifths of the economy, but it has given some 400,000 Cubans a small business licence; More restaurants are popping up around Havana, for instance. The government has promised to expand the range of activities people can try their hand at.

But it is not spring in Cuba yet.

It is hoped a new cornucopia measure to allow unused land to be cultivated will bear fruit, since the revolutionary island cannot grow enough to feed itself.

Cuba still has to import 80 percent of what it eats, and that consumes 30 percent of its hard currency, valued at 1.3 billion euros per year.

In a country where the government has controlled wages and prices, and rationed commodities since 1959, some income gaps have narrowed.

But even while recent social reforms have improved housing availability for instance, Odlanieris Cordero, a theatre wardrobe manager in the capital cannot get by on the monthly 20 euros she earns. Her husband working in Europe sends money home.

Cordero said: “I can’t imagine what life would be without his help.”

Cuba did distribute wealth more evenly, though old money and people in politics and the army enjoyed more of it. But there is a fear that the egalitarian ideal is dying.

The editor of Temas magazine, Raphael Hernández, warned: “A growing income differential is a concern for everybody. It’s a concern for the majority of Cubans. It’s a concern for the government. But the question of different salaries, different incomes is part of what is accepted today in Cuba. This is not a classless society. This is not a uniform society anymore.”

The most daring reform, some say, is liberalising property. If you owned a place, it used to be illegal to sell it. You could only trade it for another one. Not any more. But today it is almost impossible to buy unless a Cuban has some kind of income advantage over others. As market practices creep in and prices rise, those who can keep up are in a small minority.