The recent Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba displayed the difficulties Cuban leaders are having in developing a mixed economy with private enterprise (the non-state sector) competing against the dominant state business enterprises. As prior posts have reported, Cuban leaders at the Congress admitted that the state-owned entities were having difficulty in such competition and the non-state sector was increasing its share of the Cuban economy while the leaders simultaneously railed against President Obama’s effective advocacy of free enterprise to the Cuban people.
Now we see two other signs of the Cuban regime’s near panic over this situation.
Firing of Professor Omar Everleny Perez
First, it is now being revealed that on April 8 (three weeks after Obama’s visit to Cuba), the University of Havana fired Professor Omar Everleny Perez, one of the country’s best-known academics, an expert in developing economies who served as a consultant for Castro’s government when it launched a series of market-oriented economic reforms in 2011. He has made many well-known trips to universities and conferences in the U.S. and frequently received foreign visitors researching the Cuban economy, but was fired for allegedly having unauthorized conversations with foreign institutions and informing “North American representatives” about the internal procedures of the university.
Perez said he believed Cuban authorities were seeking to make an example of him not because of the allegations in the letter, but because of his critical writings about the slow pace of economic reforms. Armando Chaguaceda, a Cuban political scientist based at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico, shared that view. He said, “His call to speed up the reforms and make them coherent may have served to frighten some of the forces of immobility in the bureaucracy. It’s a terrible message to economists that will affect the government’s own capacity to hear feedback about its reforms.”
Perez is not the only Cuban academic to be sanctioned by the authorities in recent years. Political scientist Esteban Morales was expelled from the Communist Party in 2010 for two years for denouncing corruption. Sociologist Roberto Zurbano lost his job at a state cultural center after discussing racism in Cuba in an editorial published in the New York Times. In 2013, musician Roberto Carcasses was temporarily barred from cultural institutions after criticizing the government during a concert, and director Juan Carlos Cremata was prevented last year from putting on a production of Eugene Ionesco’s “Exit the King,” a play about a once-powerful dying leader.
Cubans Fleeing the Country
The second sign of Cuban leaders’ distress is the increasing number of Cubans leaving the island.
As discussed in other posts, many Cubans have been leaving Cuba and seeking to get through the U.S. through Central America. Inspired in part by a fear that the U.S. would be eliminating its special immigration benefits for Cubans, their departures also show fear that their dire economic situation in Cuba would not significantly improve in the near future.
The arrival of Cubans by land with “dry feet” in the U.S. is documented in a report by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Since October 2014 it has processed nearly 75,000 Cubans who arrived at ports of entry, many of them in Laredo, Texas.
The phenomenon of Cubans leaving the island is seen too by Cubans trying to make the dangerous sea crossing to Florida. U.S. Homeland Security Department documents show the highest number of such attempted crossings in the past eight years.
During the 2015 fiscal year ending September 30, 2015, more than 4,400 Cubans set out for the U.S. by sea, a 20 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, according to Coast Guard figures. Of these the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted 2,927, which was up 42.2% over fiscal 2014 and 115.7% over fiscal 2013. Between October 2015 and this March, more than 4,300 people have tried to make the dangerous trip.
The U.S. Coast Guard has had to step up its presence in the Florida Straits to deal with more people on overcrowded, makeshift rafts or barely seaworthy boats. Would-be immigrants caught at sea are returned to Cuba, so the rush has made people more desperate, with some actually wounding themselves with knives or guns in the hopes they will be taken to a hospital in the U.S. instead of sent back. Others try to flee rescuers and refuse life jackets.
These developments show this outside observer from the U.S. that Cuba needs to step up the pace of economic reform and that the U.S. needs to end its embargo as soon as possible.
 Here are blog posts about President Obama’s trip to Cuba and the recent congress of the Communist Party of Cuba: President Obama’s Eloquent Speech to the Cuban People (Mar. 25, 2016)(includes full text of speech); Reactions to President Obama’s Speech to the Cuban People (Mar. 26, 2016); Fidel Castro Challenges President Obama’s Call To Forget the Past (Mar. 28, 2016); Other Reactions to Fidel Castro’s Commentary on President Obama’s Trip (Mar. 31, 2016); Raúl Castro Discusses Cuba-U.S. Relations in Report to Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba (April 18, 2016);Raúl Castro Discusses Scio-Economic Issues in Report to Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba (April 19, 2016); Conclusion of Seventh Congress of Communist Party of Cuba (April 20, 2016.
 Assoc. Press, Renowned Pro-Reform Cuban Economist Fired As Chill Sets In, N.Y. Times (April 21, 2016).
 Here are a few of the posts regarding Cuban migrants in Central America and by sea: Resolution of Problem of Cuban Migrants Stranded in Costa Rica (Dec. 30, 2015); Cuban Migration Developments (Jan. 21, 2016); Another Cuban Migrant Problem in Central America (April 17, 2016).
 Assoc. Press, Cubans Fleeing in High Numbers Despite New Diplomatic Ties, N.Y. Times (April 20, 2016); Neal, 137 Cubans repatriated by Coast Guard, Miami Herald (April 20, 2016); U.S. Coast Guard, Alien Migrant Interdiction (as of Jan. 19, 2016).