Cuba Trying to Avoid That “Special Period”

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

As Cuba’s ally Venezuela is falling apart, it has become only too apparent that socialism does not work, and that for Cuba to avoid Venezuela’s fate must continue to change its system of economics. For decades, Cuba had followed the example of the former Soviet Union—strict controls on prices and commodities, and a command economy completely regulated by the government. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Cuban economy virtually collapsed with it. This comes as no surprise because the Soviet Union kept the stagnant Cuban economy afloat, and protected from the former U.S. embargo.

After 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, this was no longer possible. Cuba experienced what has been called a “Special Period.” Food shortages, electrical shortages (due to the shortage of oil and coal formerly supplied by the Soviet Union), agriculture breaking down, and people unable to make a living because the state controlled the means of production and therefore stymied economic incentive. When a former soldier and socialist named Hugo Chavez won election in Venezuela in 1999, he automatically sided with Cuba. This saved Cuba from total economic collapse. Chavez provided Cuba with ample oil and natural gas, money from its huge cash reserves, and became a conduit for consumer goods that were impossible to obtain in Cuba. Now that Venezuela looks like it is about to collapse, this has not been helping Cuba.

But the current Cuban President, Raul Castro, learned that in order for Cuba to avoid its previous Special Period,” has to change the way the economy is structured, how people live, and allow people to create their own private businesses. Old economic dogmas are being cast aside in Cuba, and the Cuban government is allowing farmers to finally grow their own produce and sell it on a newly created open market. In essence, Raul Castro is doing the opposite of what Venezuela is doing—casting aside socialism in favor of a market economy that can be found in China, Vietnam and Laos today. Although the Cuban government is trying to censor any negative news coming out of Venezuela, such information is hard to stop entirely. What Cubans hear about what is happening in Venezuela is what many of them experienced during their Special Period. It is a period Cubans do not wish to return to.

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