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Absent at the Creation

Author: Julia E. Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director for Latin America Studies
October 1, 2010
International Herald Tribune

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A radical new phase in Cuban history is unfolding in plain sight. But unlike the rest of the world, Washington appears not to notice.

Under President Raúl Castro, preserving the Revolution is now about evolution: land reform, property rights, real estate investment, progressive taxation, small businesses, privatization and government lay-offs--a half-million will start next month, with more to come.

In practical terms, this means ending the system where everyone is paid but almost no one works, and where the state doles out a long list of freebies but has little productive tax base to finance its expenditures.

Starting next month, Cubans running businesses in a huge range of goods and services will pay income, payroll and social security taxes. And the Cuban state will spend the new revenue on health care, education and infrastructure.

Rolled out to a conservative public leery of life off the dole, and in the wake of the global financial crisis and a difficult internal debate, these changes amount to much more than a budgetary decision.

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