Cuban President Raul Castro has introduced a series
of reforms since he succeeded his
ailing brother, Fidel, earlier this year. The reforms are primarily economic,
but also include lifting restrictions on the sale of computers, cell phones and
other items. As VOA's Bill Rodgers reports,
Cuba experts say the measures are significant but do not indicate any loosening
of Communist Party control of the island.
Since formally becoming president in February, Raul
Castro has introduced a series of economic reforms.
Some are aimed at increasing food production. Farmers
will be able to rent unused land from government collectives to grow crops and
sell them at market prices.
Other reforms seek to stimulate economic production.
Like dropping equal pay and salary cap rules that have been in place for nearly
Cuba expert Philip Peters of the Lexington Institute
near Washington says the reforms are significant.
"They don't affect fundamental rights issues
yet, and they haven't really fixed the fundamental problems in the Cuban
economy yet, but these are changes and I think most Cubans are sitting up and
taking notice and saying these things are good and they hope that things go
much further.” Peters said.
In April, the government allowed ordinary Cubans to
buy DVD players, computers, microwaves and other household items once restricted
to companies and foreigners.
Even though these goods cost far more
than most Cubans can afford, flower vendor Lazaro Martinez welcomed the move.
“It's progress. Humanity is moving
ahead, so we should too," Martinez said.
The measures - including allowing Cubans to own cell
phones - have eased some restrictions on daily life.
But most experts agree they are not a sign that
Cuba's leadership intends to relinquish political control.
Juan Carlos Hidalgo heads the Latin American Project
at the libertarian CATO Institute in
“We can see a discussion on how to
improve productivity here, how to allow farmers get higher yields, stuff like
that,” he said. “But we'll never see a discussion of whether an independent
party can run in a local election or to allow independent groups to protest
freely in the streets of Havana."
But easing the shortages and inefficiencies of daily
life may be enough to satisfy Cubans for now.
Experts say Raul Castro is unlike his older brother Fidel, who ruled
Cuba with an iron hand for almost five decades. But he and the leadership are
intent on preserving socialism, says Peters. "I think they saw a few years
ago and they said it out loud: 'we're coming to the end'. And they see there are some threats to the
longevity of this socialist project that they've put in place in Cuba and one
of them is the economy," he said.
But after so many decades of state control of the
economy, experts say Raul Castro may
need to make deeper changes than the reforms introduced so far.