Economist Critiques Cuban Economy

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a professor emeritus of economics and Latin American studies at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of 45 books on Cuba, recently delivered his critique of the Cuban economy in the New York Times.[1]

He opens with the assertion, “For the past 60 years, Cuba has been unable to finance its imports with its own exports and generate appropriate, sustainable growth without substantial aid and subsidies from a foreign nation. This is the longstanding legacy of Cuba’s socialist economy.” These foreign nations were Spain in the colonial era, the U.S. (circa 1903 -1958), the Soviet Union (circa 1959-1988) and Venezuela (21st century). Yet “despite the staggering foreign aid subsidies it has received, [Cuba’s] . . . economic performance has been dismal.”

“In the past seven years, growth has been a third of the officially set figure needed for adequate and sustainable growth, while investment has been one third of the required rate. Industrial, mining and sugar production are well below 1989 levels, and the production of 11 out of 13 key agricultural and fishing products has declined. Cuba is now facing its worst economic crisis since the 1990s.”

According to Mesa-Lago, “Cuba’s woes are a result of the inefficient economic model of centralized planning, state enterprises and agricultural collectivization its leaders have pursued despite the failure of these models worldwide. In his decade in power, President Raúl Castro tried to face his brother Fidel’s legacy of economic disaster head on by enacting a series of market-oriented economic structural reforms. He also opened the door to foreign investment, but so far, the amount materialized has been one-fifth of the goal set by the leadership for sustainable development.”

Although Cuba has adopted some reforms to allow some private enterprise, Mesa-Lago says Cuba needs “to accelerate and deepen reforms. China and Vietnam’s market socialism model under Communist Party rule could provide a way forward.”

If such reforms are carried out and foreign investors are allowed to hire and pay a full salary directly to their employees, he concludes, “there will be a significant improvement in the economy and the government can undertake the desperately needed monetary unification that will attract more investment and eliminate the economic distortions that plague the economy.”

As noted in a recent post to this blog, the Cuban economy also faces the challenges of an aging, declining population with the latter being caused, in part, by the limited opportunities for economic success, especially for younger Cubans. [2]

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[1] Mesa-Lago, Cuba Can Move From Foreign Economic Dependence, N.Y. Times (Mar. 28, 2019).

[2] See also posts listed in the “Cuban Economy” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.