The Times They are A-Changing

"Cuban Coastline" These are interesting times in Cuba’s history. A couple of years ago members of different chapters of the Communist Party of Cuba from workplaces all over the country began contributing their suggestions on changes that needed to be made in Cuba’s society and economy. Until this month, the Communist Party of Cuba had not held a congress in 14 years, since the economic crisis during the “Special Period” years following the collapse of the Soviet Union was really just a period of survival and recovery. Last year the suggestions by the various party nuclei were put together into around 300 proposed changes to existing policy. Yesterday the Communist party congress concluded 4 days of debate and exchange in several different commissions that were formed to attend to these matters and came up with the text and final modifications to around 300 proposed changes to existing laws. The changes will be put to a vote in the Cuban Parliament when it convenes in July and are fully expected to be ratified.

Among the most notable of the changes for everyday Cubans will be a law which will permit the purchase and sale of property/homes between Cuban naturals. While we understand that multiple property holdings is not part of the deal, this is a big step forward and is looked upon favorably by the overwhelming majority of Cubans in Cuba. Another law will permit the sale of vehicles among Cubans. Up until now, only owners of vehicles that were purchased pre-Revolution, or those that had the coveted “traspaso”, were able to legally change the name of the ownership of their vehicle. Obtaining a newer vehicle is usually only authorized if the Cuban natural requesting the purchase has worked abroad for a certain period of time and/or can otherwise financially justify the means with which he or she is able to purchase the vehicle.

Five young Cuban men have been languishing as political prisoners in jails in the USA for the last 13 years. Last month an American, Alan Gross, was convicted in a Cuban court of illegally delivering satellite phones to Cuba and was sentenced to 15 years. Ex-president Jimmy Carter was subsequently here on a visit which many largely understand was a pretext to negotiate the release of Gross. Today on CNN the tone of the report on the Cuban 5 was distinctly softer, finally recognizing that there are 2 sides to this story and concurring with Carter that 13 years is enough already. The 5 were working to prevent terrorist acts, not commit them. Will we soon see some movement on the part of the USA to pardon any/all of the Cuban 5 in exchange for the release of Alan Gross? Time will tell. But there certainly seems to be a change in the position of the US on this issue.

The other distinct change in Cuba is that licenses that have been granted to many categories of private businesses that were previously looked down upon by the government. Private businesses will now pay a monthly tax and while there are few of these operations that will make their owners rich, they will allow them to control their own destiny. Small cafeterias and points of sale of various items have sprung up around every corner. Many will not survive – it’s the nature of competition. But the general hope is that services, quality and availability of certain products will improve as a result of the move. What remains to be worked out is the supply of goods to these vendors. A marketplace must be created where they can buy goods at wholesale to supply their operation.

In my 17 years of living in Cuba this is by far the most exciting period. I hope to share some of my experiences (past and future) in this blog and hope you all enjoy the posts.

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