Feature

Can cellphones free Cuba?

Cuba’s new president, Raúl Castro, is loosening restrictions on his people, said Carlos Alberto Montaner in The Miami Herald, but letting people have cellphones and stay in tourist hotels won't change Cuba's "intrinsically unproductive" economic

What happenedCuba’s new president, Raúl Castro, has loosened some restrictions put in place during the 50-year rule of his brother, Fidel. The changes instituted in the past week include allowing Cubans to use cellphones; buy microwaves, DVD players, and computers; and stay at tourist hotels on the island. In a country where the average salary is $20 a month, most Cubans won’t be able to take advantage of their new rights. “I can’t afford to go to the hotels,” said retired sound technician Georgina Garcia. “But I think it’s good anyway. I have the right to go, and I feel the same as the tourists who come here.” (CNN)

What the commentators said“Raúl understands the importance of material incentives” to make people work harder, said Carlos Alberto Montaner in The Miami Herald (free registration). But he will still “fail as a leader.” Brother Fidel just exercised his “permanent veto” over a “minor” proposal to facilitate Cuban travel abroad, and he will use it on other “sensible” reforms, too. The larger problem, though, is that Cuba’s economic system is “intrinsically unproductive.”

Allowing cellphones and other goods is "hardly the last word in fixing Cuba’s screwed-up economic system,” said Matthew Yglesias in The Atlantic. But it’s “certainly a step in the right direction.” In order to “alleviate the sorry conditions of the Cuban people,” however, the U.S. will have to “take a step in the right direction of our own” and lift at least part of our “draconian” embargo.

Cellphones and toasters aren’t going to give Cubans what they really need, said Investor’s Business Daily in an editorial. They need “real economic freedom.” Even poor people in India and Indonesia have access to “consumer technology,” because they have the “economic liberty” to earn real cash. Dangling generally unaffordable “consumer offerings” before the people is merely the act of “a new dictator seeking to win some popularity.”

If Raúl thinks these “now-popular changes” will prolong his rule, said Gordon Chang in Commentary’s Contentions blog, he “has obviously fallen behind in his readings on political science.” Small reforms merely remind oppressed people of the “thousand little things” that still irritate them about their oppressive rulers. And “those annoyances will eventually push them to changing their leaders.” Whether he meant to or not, “Raúl has just started down a path of change that will, one way or another, lead to the end of communism in Cuba.”

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