Originally published in Portuguese on Folha de Sao Paulo:
In 2010 I participated in a conversation with Fidel Castro, when, in reply to a question about whether Cuba was still 'exporting' its 'model' to Latin America, he inadvertently caused an international media firestorm by replying—"the Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore." A statement of the obvious for most Cubans, and an affirmation that real change was afoot.
Here are some still undigested takeaways from conversations with dozens of Cubans in and out of government about how they see that change.
1-) The death of Hugo Chavez and uncertainty in Venezuela reinforces a pre-existing rationale and time frame for Cuba to deepen trade, investment, and diplomatic ties with a variety of partners. Brazil is a prime example. Add the rest of Latin America, China, Russia, Angola, the EU and eventually the United States to that strategy.
2-) Remittances and material support from Cubans in the diaspora play a growing role in the micro-economy of the island, and help launch small family businesses. But Cubans trying to prosper in the private sector are still waiting for expanded access to bank credit and for wholesale markets to open, and for tax rates to stabilize. That may sound like a bland statement, but it suggests that major social change is afoot.
3-) The major macroeconomic step, eliminating the dual currency, will be painful and necessary. The state can't afford to subsidize everything for everyone and no longer does so. But substantially cutting subsidies and devaluing the currency at the same time would amount to more shock therapy than the society can take at this stage.
4-) The digital age is finally arriving. This month's opening of internet cafes is the leading edge of a policy decision to substantially increase investment in and access to the digital infrastructure the rest of us now take for granted. Cubans are already crazy about social media—and I'm not just talking about Brazil's idol Yoani Sanchez. Watch this space: it is likely to grow.
5-) Its still unclear how the official Cuban press will adapt. Next month a congress of journalists will debate their guild's future. Hopefully we will see more space for the values of transparency and accountability promoted elsewhere by the Raul Castro government. But for an idea of the real debates in Cuba, see www.espaciolaical.org or www.temas.cult.cu.
6-) Speaking of transparency, a big push to penalize corruption is now underway. Foreign companies are on notice to play by the rules. Soon the corruption on which the black market relies will come under legal scrutiny. Cubans seem to understand that the rule of law is essential to a well functioning market economy and more foreign investment and that cleaning up corruption is a necessary precondition.
7-) Political parties? Not yet, but no longer inconceivable.
8-) Also in the category of no longer inconceivable: a woman president.
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