Thousands of Cubans took to the streets, demanding greater economic freedom and the end of the country’s socialist dictatorship.
The rallies, remarkable enough for a country that limits and represses dissent, unambiguously stem from a worsening economic crisis, particularly exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
It is no surprise that after decades of suffering from the failing ideologies of communism and socialism, the Cuban people are calling for freedom. And indeed, we hear the demonstrators calling for “libertad”.
Economic freedom is important.
Like the New York Times reported Sunday:
“It is no longer a question of freedom of expression. It’s a question of hunger, ”said Adonis Milan, theater director in Havana, moments before leaving his house to join the crowd massed in the city.
“People are taking to the streets. They demand the end of this government, of the one-party regime, of the repression and of the misery that we have been experiencing for 60 years, ”he declared.
Cuba is in dire need not only of political reforms, but also of economic reforms that can generate greater opportunities for the people.
In December, the government said Cuba’s gross domestic product had declined by 11% since the start of 2020. In fact, the Cuban economy has long suffered from a lack of economic freedom.
Massive state intervention has stifled innovation, and the state’s foreign exchange earnings depend on a few exports, such as nickel, as well as tourism and health care.
According to the annual report of the Heritage Foundation Index of economic freedom, a global benchmark report that measures the strength of economic governance and the entrepreneurial environment in countries around the world, the Cuban economy is among the worst in the world, at the bottom of the repressed category since the inception of the index in 1995. Only two of Cuba’s 12 index indicators — monetary and trade components — have scores slightly above 50 (out of 100).
Sharp reductions in economic growth in recent years due to the lack of meaningful economic reform, an economic collapse in client state Venezuela and the ongoing pandemic have forced the island’s regime to back down on a very timid set of measures aimed at partial liberalization. Thereby, the 2021 index reports that Cuba’s economic freedom score is only 28.1, making its economy 176e-the freest of the 178 countries ranked, ahead of only Venezuela and North Korea.
A small number of limited reforms from 2010 onwards allowed Cubans to work as “freelancers” in the private sector, but currently they can only work in narrow categories defined by the state.
While a review of the partial liberalization of the labor market has been introduced at the start of this year to enable private sector employment in nearly 2,000 professions, reserving 124 of the most strategic activities for the participation of the state, the state – which spends over 60% of economic output of the island – remained firmly under the control of the private sector and the daily economic life of the Cuban people.
In a recent article, “Cuba’s New Leadership Must Produce Results Quickly,” The Economist underline: “Young Cubans are digitally connected and impatient with the socialist regime.” The article further noted:
Cuba’s communist regime has survived countless premature obituaries. A new, slightly younger management took over, under the slogan “unity and continuity”. Yet the fact that the party had to proclaim that nothing is changing suggests that below the surface it is worried that things may change. … The iron control of the Cuban police state is not immediately threatened. But the frustration grows.
What is happening in the streets of Cuba today is not something unforeseen. Cubans, especially young people, are fed up with socialism and want to move away from it.
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