Sabtu, 29 Maret 2008

The Hemisphere: Raul Castro is making hay from "reforms" allowing his subjects access to toasters and cell phones. Big deal. What Cubans need is cash to buy them. That can only come with real economic freedom.

As befits a new dictator seeking to win some popularity, Castro is lifting ownership restrictions for ordinary Cubans on mobile phones, computers, DVD players, even toasters.

But unlike the toasters that U.S. banks used to give away, these dont come free. Each of Rauls offerings to buy goods comes with a state-set price most Cubans have no realistic prospect of affording.

Average Cuban salaries, minus ration cards for food and state health care, come to only $20 a month, so computers and cell phones will still remain out of reach. As Raul takes plaudits for the banquet of "reform" hes offering, the little detail of where the money comes from generally goes unasked.

But its in fact the most essential detail. Economic freedom -- including the right to earn what one is worth, charge what the market will bear and innovate and invest as ones individuality allows -- is the real issue that needs to be reformed in Cuba. Raul has made no moves in this direction because he may get too close to giving Cubans real power against his rule.

The recently released 2008 Index of Economic Freedom from the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal ranks Cuba 29th of 29 countries for its region and second from the bottom only to North Korea for its lack of economic freedoms.

The Cuban economy is virtually all state-owned, and even citizens with tiny private businesses are dependent on state supply chains. If any Cuban is perceived as an enemy of the state, thats the end of his access to resources, capital and earnings.

Worse yet, even the meager money ordinary Cubans make isnt good enough for Raul Castros consumer offerings. The goods are available only to Cubans with "convertible" pesos -- hard currency converted at a fixed rate -- which excludes most Cubans from buying just as surely as meager money does.

Rather than reform, the two-tier system is an additional recipe for corruption. Ordinary Cubans who lack economic freedom but still see new computers on store shelves will feel more enticed to enter the dog-eat-dog black market and informal economy to get hard-currency cash. This will foster organized crime and corruption, as happened in the Soviet Union during its twilight years.

Ordinary Cubans will also seek more cash from Miami relatives to obtain these consumer goods, meaning the "reforms" in the end will amount to a shakedown from the Castro brothers to encourage Cuban exiles to wire more money to Cuba for its state-run stores.

Finally, Raul Castro is only offering these goodies by executive fiat -- a dictatorial act in itself -- and Cubans themselves know he can reverse it.

The absence of economic freedom in Cuba is a sad reminder of how far its people have fallen in their 50 years under communism. Even the poorest in places such as Indonesia and India have more access to consumer technology -- because poor as they are, they still have more economic liberty.

No one should be fooled by Raul Castros pretentions of reform in material goods. The only real reform is freedom.


0 komentar: