As Fidel Castro and his Cuban revolution fade, is Cuba rising?
Seismic changes in the communist economy built by Fidel Castro are enriching some Cubans, scaring others, and sparking imaginations: Will the Caribbean gem shine again?
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Yet Santana knows he is limited as a business owner. He can't invest in his company – from putting up a new sign to hiring more staff to renovating the space – because he simply has no capital.Skip to next paragraph
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That is where many see a role for the Cuban community in the US, estimated at about 1.5 million. At least 1 million households in Cuba receive remittances totaling $1.4 billion annually. The average amount sent is $200 a month – 10 times the average monthly salary in Cuba.
Manuel Orozco, a remittances expert at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, estimates that 10 percent of Cubans receiving remittances could eventually use that to invest in small business – to upgrade tool sets, fix car motors, or build extra bedrooms to rent to tourists.
But it depends on how far the government is willing to take reform. Optimists point to positive change, including proposed access to microcredit and hiring rules that allow Cubans to employ more than just family members, so that they can form enterprises, says Mr. Spadoni.
Yet questions abound: Where will they buy their products? Who will be able to pay for services? Will high taxes undermine businesses before they even get off the ground? Will taxes dissuade many from taking legal routes and drive entrepreneurs into the black market? Even the government plan for private enterprise, leaked and circulating in a PDF document, acknowledges that many new businesses "could fail within a year" because of a lack of expertise and training, among other factors.
The Cuban exile community, once dedicated to the overthrow of Castro and the triumphant return of capitalistic investment to its homeland, has aged. And younger Cuban-Americans are more wary of investing too heavily.
"The Cuban-American community will help, but nobody here is going to take out half a million dollars and plunk it into a business in Cuba with the system as it is," observes Jaime Suchliki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami. "There's no equipment, so any business is going to be very rudimentary, and who will buy their services? They are going to have a high rate of failure."
Mr. Suchliki offers this example: "If you were an inspector of schools in the Ministry of Education [and] they throw you on the street, you don't know anything about business, you have no business planning. You only have dollars if you have relatives in the US. There's a limit to how much anyone will lend."
But if Havana hair stylist Zoraida Bustos is any example of the national sentiment, Cubans will have no problem proving they have embraced their newfound freedoms and are ready to prosper the capitalistic way.
True, her store just has a simple wooden sign with one word written in red: "Hairdresser." She uses supplies sent from family and others abroad. If she had her way, she'd hire two more women so that she could offer pedicures and apply acrylic nails without clients facing endless waits.
An electric sign, new supplies, and added staff, she says, are a long way off. But she feels a momentum that could be hard to rein in: "I was crazy to free myself. Even if the state begins to pressure me, this way I will always be freer."
• Jacqui Goddard contributed from Miami. The Monitor's correspondent in Cuba could not be named for security reasons.
IN PICTURES: Cuba Economy