Today, Cubans are reportedly being allowed to listen to Gloria Estefan.
She and about 50 other artists were, until this week, blacklisted and banned. However, it’s not just the airwaves that are getting a facelift: Earlier this month, the aged Castro regime adopted a new tax code said to simplify government funding, legalize the sale of certain items, and allow Cubans working in cooperatives to divide profits without government oversight. This policy forms part of this year’s land privatization reforms known as the 313 guidelines.
But let’s not pop the champagne just yet. Raul Castro is pretty clear about making socialism “sustainable and irreversible.” Immediate necessity, not a fundamental shift toward freedom, is driving policy on the island. Real democracy and genuine economic freedom are still taboo.
Cuba’s miserable human rights record was recently on display with the death of Oswaldo Payá, a prominent anti-Castro dissident who spawned the bold Varela Project. Payá died in a suspicious car accident on July 23. Authorities released an official story pockmarked with gaping holes and diverted attention from the death to “foreign funding” of Payá’s political activity. Payá’s grieving widow was denied access to details about the incident, and the two surviving passengers were held in tight custody for a week after the wreck. The regime responded to calls for an impartial investigation with insults and threats.
According to the U.N., 2011 saw 2,400 government critics arrested or otherwise silenced in Cuba. Political prisoners have died under mysterious circumstances, and it is not uncommon for some to attempt suicide. The “Ladies in White,” a Cuban activist group demanding the release of Cuba’s political prisoners, are regularly detained and threatened with violence or prison sentences.
The economic devastation of Castro’s policies continues apace. Tepid reforms will not spur foreign investment or rejuvenate economic activity. Disrespect of property rights, a history of government seizures, and a narrow list of authorized non-public-sector jobs discourages entrepreneurship. Although a third of Cuba’s land is devoted to agricultural production, Cuba imports roughly 80 percent of its food thanks to gross government mismanagement.
The watchword for Raul Castro and company: “Socialism and the revolutionary political and social system…are irrevocable; and Cuba will never again return to capitalism.”
Listening to Gloria Estefan may pass the time. It may make some Cubans feel a little less restricted. But only the drastic surgery of real democracy and market freedoms—not cosmetic embellishments—will truly make their lives better.
Yonathan Amselem is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.