Is Cuba’s Vision of Market Socialism Sustainable?

Is Cuba’s Vision of Market Socialism Sustainable?
A waiter serves customers at a private restaurant in Havana, Cuba, Jan. 31, 2018 (AP photo by Ramon Espinosa).

Just three months after Miguel Diaz-Canel took over the presidency of Cuba from Raul Castro, his government has unveiled a new Council of Ministers—essentially, Cuba’s Cabinet—along with the draft of a new constitution and sweeping new regulations on the island’s emergent private sector. While the changes announced represent continuity with the basic reform program Raul Castro laid out during his tenure, they are nevertheless significant milestones along the road to a more market-oriented socialist system.

The discussion and approval of the draft constitution was the main event of last week’s National Assembly meeting. The revised charter will now be circulated for public debate, revised, reconsidered by the National Assembly, and then submitted to voters in a referendum early next year. The avowed reason for revamping the constitution is to align it with the economic reforms spelled out in 2011 and 2016 that constitute the blueprint for Cuba’s transition to market socialism. Cuba’s 1976 constitution, adopted at the height of its adherence to a Soviet model of central planning, reflected “historical circumstances, and social and economic conditions, which have changed with the passing of time,” as Raul Castro explained two years ago.

Nevertheless, two key tenets of the old charter remain unchanged. First, the new constitution reaffirms the commitment to a socialist system in which state property predominates and Cubans are guaranteed free, universal social services like health care and education. Second, the Communist Party retains its leading role as sole political representative of the Cuban nation. Notably, however, the new document omits the 1976 goal of “building a communist society”—a recognition that such a utopian project is simply not feasible.

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