I have begun reading the first of two books about the Cuban economy that have been written fairly recently. They are collections of articles by Cuban economists and Americans who might be described as Cubanologists like Carmelo Mesa-Lago (originally from Cuba) whose anti-Communism is a bit more nuanced than what you find in the academy (Mesa-Lago is quoted frequently by the state caps.)
In the first book, there’s a long and very instructive article by Brian Pollitt, a British economist who has been studying sugar production in Cuba for 30 years. I will be reporting on it when I begin a series of posts about the Cuban economy, but will say at this point that it makes an observation that reminds me of the problems of the Nicaraguan economy under the FSLN, namely that structural changes in the rural sector that are intended to benefit the poor frequently have unintended consequences:
George Vickers pointed these contradictions out in an article in the June 1990 “NACLA Report on the Americas” entitled “A Spider’s Web.” He noted that the Agrarian Reform provided a reduction in rents, greater access to credit and improved prices for basic grains. This meant that small peasants had no economic pressure on them to do the backbreaking work of harvesting export crops on large farms. Even when wages increased on these large farms, the campesino avoided picking cotton on the large farms. Who could blame them?
In a nutshell, something similar has happened in Cuba. Pollitt points out that there’s been a big drop in sugar production because rural workers cannot be pressured into cutting cane through manual labor. After the end of Soviet aid, there’s been a crisis in the sugar industry because of a failure to replace aging machinery in the sugar fields. There are still many sugar fields that can be harvested but only by hand. Like Nicaragua, there is a problem getting people liberated from an oppressive plantation economy to do the kind of work that they once did.
I just spotted an article by Pollitt on MRZine this morning that might explore these questions. I strongly recommend a read: