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Speaker examines economic change in Cuba

| Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Drawing on the results of 80 interviews from members of the private sector of the workforce in Cuba, Carmelo Mesa-Lago, distinguished service professor emeritus of economics and Latin American studies at the University of Pittsburgh, delivered a lecture Tuesday called “Voices of Change from the Non-State Sector in Cuba” at the Hesburgh Center. The lecture focused on economic changes in Cuba over the past several years. The results of the interviews have already been published in the book “Voces de Cambio en el Sector no Estatal en Cuba,” which Mesa-Lago co-authored. An English version of the book will be available in the fall of 2017.

According to Mesa-Lago, the rise of the private sector in Cuba can be attributed to economic reforms made under Raul Castro. While there is some information available on the impact of these reforms, Mesa-Lago and his co-authors wanted to look at the reforms from a new angle.

“Although we have substantial information in terms of this non-state sector, we didn’t know what the feelings of the people involved in that sector were,” he said. “We wanted to find out, ‘What do they think about so many important issues that they are dealing with?’”

As a result of the research and interviews, Mesa-Lago said this project has been a unique one for him.

“I have written a lot of books, and I have never been more involved in a book like this because for the first time I was hearing the Cuban people talking, and that was fascinating for me,” he said.

The project is also relevant due to the growing private sector in Cuba, Mesa-Lago said. In 2015, 71 percent of those employed worked in the state sector, which was a decrease from previous years, he said.

Mesa-Lago said the interviews were primarily conducted with people who work in non-agricultural production and service cooperatives, usufruct farmers and those who buy and sell private dwellings.

The group of people who work in cooperative farms is especially important, according to Mesa-Lago.

“It’s a tiny group, but they play an important role because Cuba gives preference to the cooperatives over self-employment because it’s a more advanced socialist form of organization and therefore they have an advantage over self-employment,” he said.

Mesa-Lago described the private workforce as “young, male, white, with very high education.”

While he said this is not typical of the Cuban population, he was more surprised by the satisfaction of the workers than the lack of a representative population. From the interviews, 80 percent of the workers were satisfied in the non-state sector, and only five percent identified themselves as unsatisfied.

“This is very interesting and surprising because they face a lot of problems – regulation, inspections, taxes, etc.,” Mesa-Lago said.

The main problems these workers face involves their inputs and state interference, Mesa-Lago said. Since 25 percent of the inputs can only be obtained from a state shop, according to Mesa-Lago, the workers have a lack of options in obtaining their resources.

The interviews also revealed that state interference and bureaucracy was a common problem with the private sector, with 27 percent of the interviewees mentioning it as a problem they faced in their business.

Aggregating the results of the interviews, Mesa-Lago said people working in the non-state sector want three primary changes — more liberty, less state regulation and interference and more estate incentives and guarantees. These requests signal to Mesa-Lago the desires of the voices in change in the country moving forward.

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About Alexandra Muck

Alexandra Muck is a Notre Dame sophomore majoring in business and economics. Originally from Dallas, she currently lives in Howard Hall.

Contact Alexandra