Cuban Economy since 1989 – Seán Kinane


Yesterday at the University of South Florida’s Tampa Campus library, the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean sponsored a lecture on the economy of Cuba.

WMNF’s Seán Kinane has this report.

Dr. Carmelo Mesa-Lago is Professor Emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh. The title of his lecture was “The Cuban Economy and Social Welfare 16 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall.�

Between 1960 and 1990, the Soviet Union gave Cuba 64.5 Billion dollars in aid. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Cuban economy declined because it no longer received that aid, and reached a low point in 1993.

In his lecture, Mesa-Lago compared economic indicators from 1989, before the break-up of the Soviet Union, with those from 2004, the most recent year for which data are available.

He concluded that the Cuban economy is doing much worse than in 1989, although he cited many examples that indicate the opposite. In agriculture and industry, there were signs of decline, such as in sugar as well as signs of growth, such as the production of oil and Cuba’s new number-one export, nickel.

ACT (21 sec)
“Basically, the Cuban sugar industry is in ruins. On the other hand, you get two products in which Cuba has been doing very well. One is nickel. There is an increase of 62%. And even more than nickel, oil. Oil production in Cuba has increased almost 400% in this 16-year period.�

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuban social indicators have also not followed any clear trend. For example, Mesa-Lago pointed out that income inequality and poverty are up, but so is university enrollment and the number of doctors. Despite this conflicting evidence, Mesa-Lago declared:

ACT (16 sec)
“With the exception of infant mortality and physicians with the caveat that I mentioned, these social indicators show that there has been a very significant deterioration in Cuba in the last 16 years.�

Mesa-Lago explained the effects of what he calls “economic reforms� that Cuba instituted in the 1990s.

ACT (31 sec)
“In 1993-1996, Cuba introduced a series of modest, but very important market-oriented economic reforms. Those economic reforms were responsible in large measure for the Cuban partial recovery. We have seen partial recovery, at least, in economic terms. But in 1996 those economic reforms were halted, the process did not continue. It was expected to continue but it was not.�

Mesa-Lago told an account of how the Cuban economy since 1989 has grown with market reforms and declined when those reforms were terminated, thereby entering what he calls an “ideological cycle�. He predicts based on the 1996 end to market “reforms�, that the Cuban economy will soon decline, He says that evidence can be found in his book, “Cuba’s Aborted Economic Reform.�

ACT (25 sec)
“Cuba is entering another ideological cycle. And what the book shows is that every time there has been an ideological cycle, the economy goes down. And this is not going to be an exception. The economy is going to decline. Because of all of these measures which are irrational, recentralization, control, etc. That’s not good for the economy, that’s not good for the people.�

When asked how the American embargo of Cuba has affected the island’s economy, Mesa-Lago responded:

ACT (27 sec)
“I have been critical of the embargo since 1968. Why? Because I believe that the major problem with the Cuban economy is not the embargo, it’s the policies. Therefore, the embargo has been very cleverly used by Fidel as a scapegoat for all the economic errors he has made all these years. Every time there is a problem, he blames the embargo. He blames the embargo, he blames the weather, blah blah blah.�

If you would like to learn more about the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean at USF, including a list of upcoming lectures, visit web –dot- usf – dot – edu -slash- I-A-C – -slash- I-S-L-A-C.

For WMNF news, I’m Seán Kinane.


Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean at USF

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