The Cuban leader Fidel Castro is making attempts to drag his country out of guagmire he has landed it in since rejecting adopting market economic principles when its sponsor, Soviet Union, fell apart in 1991. Even though his way of doing it -telling Cuban population to save on energy and work harder- is not immediately likely to effect much change, perhaps his efforts evidence that Cuban leader is losing hope of an impending end to US trade embargo on his own terms.
The hours long speeches held in recent days by Cuban 78-year old leader show that he's by no means through with Leninist-style Marxism governing his rather undreamlike Caribbean island's economy. The changes that president is making since beginning of March are a sign however that Cuban leader is worried that he might be overthrown by mob if he allows economic situation to get even more untenable.
Castro's renewed drive to doctor his country's economy is almost certainly too little too late given dire situation this country is in. Real change effecting a flourishing economy will likely only happen when country's rid of him, yet leader is still firmly in command and population's been battered into submission so much that ordinary Cuban has given up by now of hoping that there's going to be a way out other than escape.
Like any of us, leader could of course pass away tomorrow, but at 78 Castro is one of those old hands that is as unlikely to just die as he has been unlikely to let go of his leadership, many say has been so strong due mainly to stringent US embargo against this country. Political analysts hold it for near impossible that country will see another dictator after a Castro departure from stage.
Judging where it all will go will in near term depends on what you consider to be progress. On one hand, Cuban population has suffered so much it by now must have developed some means to get by whatever circumstances dictate. On other hand, real change might be taking place albeit very slowly. The renewed focus on economy that Fidel has been displaying since 8 March might reveal slight evidence that he's willing to water down Marxist-Leninist wine somewhat.
The changes in economic policies are aimed at increasing exports and improving conditions of trade with outside world. Cuba, Castro himself admitted already in early 1990s, is going through most difficult period of its history as a republic. And since then, it's gone downhill even more. The widespread hunger and hardship has continued. Most of people are unable to look further than next day, one academic report from University of Texas some ten years ago. It termed Cubans as suffering from 'societal depression' which disallows people to think a better future is at all possible. Imagine situation now.
The Cuban leader routinely blames U.S. embargo for Cuba's perils and reiterated accusations only last week. Terming it "criminal blockade" he believes that US is sole factor spoiling Cuba's chances of ever becoming a healthy economy. The outside world agrees with him. And what's more, most observers believe that vicious treatment by US is to blame for this leader's longstanding rule, which has seen some of worst human rights abuses ever.
Fidel Castro has held on to his power by fiercely battling US and playing it off against Soviets since his 1959 communist coup in which he displaced another dictator, Fulgencio Batista, yet it might now begin to dawn even on this leader that perhaps his days are going to be numbered if he doesn't make really convincing changes to better things. The US' May 2004 decision to tighten its embargo, designed to deliver another 'final' blow to this repulsive leader, might very slowly begin to pay off.
Because Fidel Castro's attempts to bring about change might be swan song of a man who is running out of ideas. He is trying to improve productivity at home by telling population to save on all forms of electricity and by making empty promises that a turnaround will happen if measures like these are stuck to. Economists that describe situation say that Cuba needs to dramatically improve on social security before domestic economy can reasonably be expected to pick up again only slightly.
There is hardly any chance of structural changes that will benefit Cuban economy in near term, but a few positive outside factors exist. They include high prices of nickel, which Cuba exports, and a steady rise in tourism revenues. The outlook for much battered sugar industry is not very hopeful because of low world market sugar prices, and shrinking volumes due to a shortage of spare parts for machinery, lack of adequate fertilization, breakdowns in transportation system, and lack of fuel for field operations and mill boilers.
There is growing support inside US to lift its embargo against Cuba since country is not posing a military threat and since embargo is not proving effective in removing leader but only starving Cubans. It is argued that lifting embargo and a few clever moves might effect just sort of speedy transition to a market economy that if it took off would possibly strengthen people and give them just that much hope to actually stand up to dictatorship in place. For a while in 1996, this looked a possibility, but recent governments have in matter of fact only worked out opposite measures. The US has recently tightened its 1992 Cuban Democracy Act which was initially adopted to bring down Castro "within weeks," according to bill's primary advocate Robert Torricelli. Last year in May, US government reduced number of visits 1 million or so Americans with ties in Cuba could pay their relatives in Cuba. And White House furthermore also restricted their remittances to Cuba.
The reason for tightening up on remittances and visits to Cuba has been perception in US that Cuban leaders whenever they were under impression that embargo was imminently lifted would tend to feel encouraged to resist any real change.
The 1996 Helms-Burton act is particularly intended to dampen such illusions because it spells out exactly kind of change US wants to see on ground. The conditions and terms for U.S. assistance to a post-Castro Cuba are outlined, as well as what markers will be employed to determine that a genuine transition to market economic principles is occurring. First of course is departure from power of Fidel Castro and his brother Raú, currently commander in chief of Revolutionary Armed Forces.
The response by Castro has been characteristic of cat and mouse game that has been played between two nations since 1960. He renewed his ban on US dollars. Yet move is bound to have been inspired more than by a wish to retaliate politically. Cuba's shortage of hard currency, already serious before present crisis, has long been termed critical, yet even by Cuban standards a crisis was at hand last October, when Castro banned use of dollars throughout country. People were given chance to change their dollars for equivalent amounts of pesos which were said to be convertible from then on against a commission of a grand 10%.