In 2008, Raúl Castro took over a country in which few people had computers or cell phones, from which his citizens could only go abroad with a special permit and it was difficult for anyone to start their own business.
A decade later, it is enough to walk through the streets of Cuba to see the dramatic change that has taken place: there are thousands of small shops, coffee shops, houses to house tourists, posters for the sale of houses and offers of agricultural products for beneficiaries of land in usufruct, while millions of people communicate with family and friends abroad through a limited but accessible public wi-fi system.
In addition, since the Cuban president and his colleague Barack Obama reestablished diplomatic relations in 2015, an unspecified part of the island’s foreign debt was condoned or restructured and the number of tourists doubled to reach five million visitors a year.
Castro will be remembered because he dared to break the stigma of private initiative as incompatible with the Cuban socialist system and allowed from 2010 an incipient labor market independent of the State, which in his brother’s time the deceased Fidel would have been unthinkable.
Although the changes are obviously many, some of them seem to have been detained for a few months. Others were smaller than expected: the small and medium-sized company, for example, was not legalized; There is still no real wholesale market open, entrepreneurs have no facilities and the delivery of some licenses were frozen in August pending new regulations for the non-state sector that no one knows for sure what they will be.
“Economically we have raised,” said Yanelis Garcia, a mother of three who in recent years began to save money with raising pigs to build a six-room hostel in the city of Santa Clara. “The part that did not fulfill us (Raúl Castro) was for example … a wholesale market, where you could have what you needed”.
García and the other entrepreneurs must get their supplies in the state retail markets that also supplies the population, generating additional expenses for them and for the people shortage caused by the small businessmen who usually wipe out the goods, especially drinks and food. .
But, encouraged by the growth she envisioned, Garcia even asked for and obtained a bank loan early last year, and started building a bar on her rooftop. Now, however, he prefers not to end it due to fear of the new promised regulations, which could be more restrictive, according to some government indications.
Last December, Vice President Marino Murillo hinted that only one license per person would be allowed, so that people like García would be unable to rent rooms and have a bar.
And although the incipient opening to private initiative is undoubted, the reality is that the State still centralizes a good part of economic activities: it still employs three of four people on the island and government salaries are low, equivalent to about 30 dollars a month , so many workers divert goods under their care to resell them on the black market, while whole families live on remittances sent to them mainly from the United States and Europe.
Castro himself exhorted his officials on several occasions to change their mentality, to get rid of prejudices against private enterprise, and to understand that the socialist model needs to be renewed in order not to perish. However, it also calmed the criticism of those who urged him to go faster, explaining that the revolution could not afford to apply rapid adjustment measures that would undermine social protection for the most vulnerable sectors.
The enormous bureaucracy often feels that the changes that benefit some 600,000 entrepreneurs – in a labor market with an economically active population of 4.6 million – put their privileges at risk, since the new “entrepreneurs” often compete with the services that the State previously lent.
“Nobody dares to disobey Raúl frontally. They quietly do not comply and look for a way to cover their backs so nobody can accuse them of being the ones who are not complying, “Yassel Padrón Kunakbaeva, a blogger who writes frequently on a website that describes him as a Marxist, told the AP. .
After falling into recession in 2016, the island’s growth in 2017 was just 1.6% last year. Meanwhile, thousands of highly qualified professionals leave the island every year, leaving more and more elderly people generating new social and health challenges in a poor economy.
“People in Cuba have not yet really processed what a government means without the figure of Raúl or Fidel,” Padrón added. “We are in an unknown land.”
Politically, Cuba continues to have a single party model – which does not seem destined to change immediately – with a strong control over social organizations and little tolerance for dissident groups that do not have legal status, to which authorities qualify as “mercenaries” at the service of interest groups in the United States and Europe with the objective of destroying the revolution.
The problems that Castro’s successor will face are many and profound.
“The political future of whoever it is (president) in April goes through the economic question,” José Viera, a former deputy foreign minister, told the AP. “It means increases in salary, the possibility of acquiring the goods that are needed … the possibility of young people to dream, to design a future, which is all based on the material wealth that the country achieves.”
Among the immediate challenges for Castro’s successor, which many believe will be Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, is the undoing of the complex system of two currencies circulating in the country that makes most people have to pay for goods in one ( convertible pesos) and receive their salaries in another (Cuban peso)
In the 1990s, the double system was created and since then Cuban pesos have been circulated -regularly used by the inhabitants of the island to cover part of their basic needs- and convertibles -equivalent each to 24 Cuban pesos- that foreigners and foreigners usually use. population to complete their family inputs.
Castro acknowledged several times the difficulties of the double currency – both issued by the State – but never achieved the unification that entails risks such as inflation or measures that could harm the most vulnerable sectors.
“I think that in the future there will be more transformations. It will be necessary to further expand self-employment (self-employment), “reflected the accountant Norma Chiang. “There are small things that can be in the hands of individuals … like bakeries or kiosks, they represent little for the State.”
In addition, the new president must find a way to grow the economy by maintaining stability in a socialist model that increasingly has fewer subsidies to food and there are deficiencies in important sectors such as health and education.
“Prices do not correspond to salaries. With 500 pesos (about 20 dollars) I can not eat, dress and live, “said the employee Adela Arpejón. “Or like and I do not dress or not like.”
As part of his reforms, Castro changed the relationship with the diaspora by allowing Cubans to leave without permission and stay two years out of the country without losing their civil and social security rights. It also offered facilities for repatriations.
More than 20,000 Cubans were repatriated and hundreds of thousands traveled to different countries to visit families, work temporarily or make purchases of products that they later resell on the island.
Castro’s successor will have to carefully handle the delicate relationship with the emigrants at a time when relations with the United States – where the largest community of Cubans lives, about two million – are in tension, after the assumption of President Donald Trump will rethink to go back in the approach initiated by Obama.
For Reinaldo Taladrid, a commentator on Cuban state television, tensions with the United States will serve as a brake on any reform sought by Raúl Castro’s successor.
“You have the most powerful country in the world, the most powerful government in the history of humanity that has a policy of regime change in Cuba,” said Taladrid.
For the commentator, while the island feels “besieged” by Washington, the revolutionary authorities will be closed to changes that may seem concessions to the United States and will have popular support in a nation with a strong patriotic feeling.