Richmond World Affairs Council

Raúl Castro: Is Cuba Better off Now?

In the United States, ten different polls can be conducted on Barack Obama and the findings can be assumed to be fairly accurate.  Researchers even go as far as to ensure that the methods are as unbiased as possible.  This gives us an idea of the general views regarding our president and the current decisions he’s making.  It also gives Obama updates on his country’s supporters after recent political changes or responses to global disasters.  Other countries, not shockingly, don’t have such freedoms.  We forget that not all countries are allowed to “bad mouth” their leaders without consequences.  Cuba, with harsh penalties for dissidents, is no exemption.


Cuba can be described as a polling black hole.  Only one poll has been conducted over the past decade and it was done by an anti-Castro group.  Helpful? Not in the slightest.  Even when third party researchers attempt at compiling an anonymous opinion poll, Cubans are worried that it will come back to haunt them.  When they are truly dissatisfied with their leader, they refrain from saying anything that could get them in trouble.  Fear is enough to discourage anyone from voicing opposition towards their leader.  



Raúl Castro took control of Cuba after his brother, Fidel Castro, resigned due to health problems in 2008.  After nearly five decades of Fidel Castro, Cubans now have a new brother in control.  Raúl quickly started implementing small economic reforms that have become significant to Cuban lives.  They can now own their own cell phones and farmers are allowed to till their own land.  Many of these reforms were a bit of a shock.  Most assumed Raúl would follow in his brother’s footsteps and drive communism into political oblivion.  However, the new reforms have undeniably pushed Cuba into a new direction.  For the most part, Cuba is unsticking itself from its history. Fidel would announce reforms only to  reverse them soon after he implements them.  Meanwhile, supporters of the reversed reforms are publically chastened.  Raúl, on the other hand, has shamed his brother and made clear that these reforms are now irreversible.  


There are two major reforms that Raúl Castro has gotten approved through the National Assembly.  First, travel restrictions have become less strict for Cubans which have allowed them to travel abroad more easily.  Second, small businesses are encouraged to focus on replacing state subsidies.  This will shift jobs from the public sector to the private sector.


The truth is that the liberalization policies have opened some political freedoms for the Cubans.  However, thousands of Cubans are still fleeing by boat to try to reach American soil.  The image above shows the steady increase in Cuban migration to The United States. This increase could potentially be because of the modifications on the United States Immigration Policy Program and fear that it will be withdrawn.


I thought you said Raúl Castro was making everything better?


This is a tricky question.  The policies brought on by Raúl Castro have definitely turned Cuba in a new direction but poverty is still very present along with steady unemployment rates.  While the refugee number is consistently high, most of these immigrants continuously visit Cuba every year.  It’s hard to really call them refugees then.  


According to The United Nations Human Development Report, Cuba’s employment to population ratio is 58.4. This can be compared to neighboring countries like Haiti which has a ratio of 75.5.  Since Cuba refuses to calculate poverty rates and per capita income according to international standards, none of the statistics provided are credible.


Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to any of our questions.  We can only draw our conclusions with the help of international norms and subtle trends.  All aspects considered, Raúl Castro is definitely on to something.  He looks at communist countries like China who have successfully transitioned to a quasi-free-market economy.  It’s clear that something needs to be done to keep Cuba’s economy afloat.


-Lindley Griffin

References and further reading:

“Cuba.” Freedom in the World. Freedom House. 2015. Accessed October 1, 2015.
Glennie, Jonathan. “Cuba: A Development Model that Proved the Doubters Wrong.”
The Guardian. August 5, 2011.  Accessed October 6, 2015
“Why Cubans Are Still Fleeing to America.” The Economist. May 18, 2015.

Accessed October 1, 2015.