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Cuba’s Economic Reforms Taking Root

HAVANA, Cuba — Despite President Raul Castro’s economic reforms in Cuba, making money is still viewed with suspicion.

Let there be no doubt: Cuba’s Communist Party has declared the island’s socialist system “irrevocable.”

But the nod to market principles at the core of Castro’s economic reforms has brought a new degree of ideological ambiguity to Cuba, leaving many to wonder just what model, exactly, the island is really following.

With Cuban authorities seeming ready to embrace new forms of private enterprise but not liberal democracy, the comparisons inevitably point to China and Vietnam. In those countries, a one-party, authoritarian political system has endured thanks to a dynamic, globalized economy that delivers steady growth.

The 81-year-old Castro made a rare trip abroad to visit China and Vietnam in July, adding to speculation that Cuba is eager to adopt the development model charted by Asia’s business-friendly communists.

But Cuba doesn’t even come close to emulating those countries, said University of Havana economist Julio Diaz Vazquez, who was educated in the Soviet Union and now studies contemporary China and Vietnam.

In Cuba, “there is an acknowledgement that we have to fix the basic structure of our economy,” said Diaz Vazquez. “But the mentality of the old model is still present: How do we keep [entrepreneurs] under control?”

Three years after Castro’s economic reforms were announced — “updates” is the official euphuism — Cuba has taken significant steps toward creating a larger role for private business.

Growth is upon Cuba

Nearly 400,000 Cubans now possess self-employment licenses that allow them to work independently. The government has attempted to boost food production by leasing nearly 3 million acres of state-owned land to private farmers and independent cooperatives on a no-cost, long-term basis. Thousands of little snack bars and restaurants have transformed the physical appearance of Cuba’s cities and towns. Cubans can buy and sell their homes and apartments for the first time in a half-century.

All of these measures, and others, have brought significant change and subtle shifts in the way Cubans perceive their opportunities and their relationship to the government.

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