When I traveled around Cuba earlier this year, one of the big motivations was to see it before it fully opened up to tourism, and hence become another homogenized tourist destination. Whether or not I’m right in that belief is neither here nor there, but lately there have been indications of some major changes happening in Cuba– changes that may see US restrictions lifted, and eventually lead to an end to the embargo.
Last week the BBC reported that the Cuban government is going to cut one million public sector jobs, half of them by next March. It’s an attempt to revitalize the struggling economy. In conjunction, the government will relax rules about private enterprise, encouraging those laid-off workers to enter the private sector. Currently the Cuban government employs 85% of the official workforce. Private business owners will be allowed to hire staff, self-employed residents will have access to social security and be able to open bank accounts, even borrow money to expand their businesses.
President Raul Castro is adamant that the government play a reduced role in the economy:
We have to end forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where you can live without working.
Then there is the news, reported by the University of Georgia’s redandblack.com, stating the US is thinking about lifting some of the restrictions on students going to Cuba for academic reasons. Current restrictions, set in 2004, limit university programs in Cuba to 10 weeks. This has forced many schools to end their Cuban programs.
And although there is debate about this — some coming from the Cuban-American community, saying they don’t want a communist government receiving any money from the States — Sarah Stephens, director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, is a proponent of these changes, stating,
I support the lifting of these and any of the other restrictions on travel to or commerce with Cuba not because I admire the Castro government but because they are counterproductive. They hurt average Cuban citizens and strengthen Cuban leaders.
It seems to only be a matter of time before the gates are fully opened.
[Image: University of Havana by Paul Mannix / Flickr]