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Three Attributes for an Improved U.S. Aid Package to Cuba

U.S. Aid Package to Cuba
“The changes in Cuba are for more socialism,” reads a sign in Havana. As relations between the United States and Cuba become warmer, this statement reflects how the U.S. aid package to Cuba should strive to protect its notable accomplishments in human development.

An improved U.S. aid package to Cuba is essential, and with it must come certain qualifications and stipulations that benefit both the U.S. and Cuba.

But what exactly should Americans look for in the next set of policy changes toward the island nation? Here are three attributes to support for an improved U.S. aid package to Cuba.

1. Lifting restrictions on U.S.-backed NGOs

It is true that Cuba boasts one of the lowest rates of extreme poverty in the world—1.5 percent in 2006. But despite this achievement, the island still suffers from food insecurity.

With an average monthly income of $20, even a typical Cuban government employee cannot afford meat daily. Milk, cheese or ice cream are reserved as weekly treats, and an aging population means that Cuba will struggle to meet more specific nutritional requirements in the future.

Yet many NGOs, especially those from Europe, must bypass subsidiaries in the United States and look elsewhere for funding. Major funding partners such as the World Bank, IMF and Inter-American Development Bank are blocked due to American veto powers in these institutions. These restrictions limit capacity-building in the agricultural sector.

In the words of one Cuban teacher, this is all too clear: “People want to leave Cuba just because they are hungry.”

2. Funding for Collective Enterprise

Cubans love to share, and one of the ways the island recovered from the fall of the Soviet Union was through its collective (public-private) business. In fact, the number of small to medium-sized firms has grown to roughly half a million since Raul Castro took office.

Raul has also implemented other changes. Private and hybrid firms can now sell services to each other and to government entities. New credit lines are being issued with unlimited ceilings, and decreases in the value of welfare and food subsidies are motivating Cubans to try entrepreneurship.

For instance, at Bella II Beauty in Havana, one esthetician is now making $42 per month instead of the $14 while under government control. Her business is one such worker cooperative.

“The inspector would come and the products that weren’t from here,” she says, “I had to hide them.”

Under the collective business model, workers can now streamline operations to increase profits, with each having say in their decision-making.

To add to this, the Cuban government is cutting back on expenses, as its banks are unable to provide more than $40 in loans to individual citizens. The Brookings Institution estimates that over 500,000 civil service jobs will be terminated in coming years to halt the bloating of public sector employment.

An improved U.S. aid package to Cuba would, therefore, support economic cooperatives with training, technical expertise, and financial resources to continue their growth.

3. Support for the Housing Sector

Every three days in Havana, at least two buildings collapse on average. This statistic sums up the state of Cuban housing: a cramped, expensive and decaying affair.

Over 85 percent of Cubans own their homes thanks to transfer measures that turned renters into owners during the revolution. But there are 11.2 million residents living in 3.9 million homes. This means that Cubans often live with not only their partners, but also their parents and grandparents.

Government estimates indicate that more than 500,000 additional housing units are required to meet demand, but construction is lagging. In order to reach that goal within eight years, the government would need to build 70,000 units per year, compared to its current yield of 16,000.

This is another opportunity for NGOs to offer properly trained labor and grants, especially since mortgages are illegal in Cuba to prevent real-estate speculation. In the words of prize-winning jurist Rodolfo Fernandez, “Housing is for living in, not for making a living from.”

An improved U.S. aid package to Cuba would preserve these unique advances by finding a middle ground between full-fledged capitalism and the more regulated (think: France) vision held by the island’s citizens.

Alfredo Cumerma

Photo: Pixabay