A Troubling Sign that Economic ‘Reform’ in Cuba Isn’t Working

The number of Cubans intercepted at sea trying to reach the coast of Florida more than doubled in the last fiscal year according to figures released by the Department of Homeland Security. In the previous fiscal year, 422 Cubans were intercepted at sea by the Coast Guard, while in the fiscal year 2011 (which just ended on September 30th), 1,000 Cubans were caught. Moreover, the number of Cubans who actually reached the U.S. shore increased by 70%, from 409 in fiscal year 2010 to 696 in fiscal year 2011. This is the first rise in illegal Cuban immigration by sea in 3 years according to authorities.

This is yet another sign that the much heralded economic “reforms” announced by Havana aren’t working. The massive layoffs of hundreds of thousands of public employees undertaken by the government of Raúl Castro were meant to be absorbed by Cuba’s almost non-existent private sector. The Communist regime tried to ease the pressure by allowing private employment in 178 economic activities, such as masseurs, clowns, shoemakers, locksmiths, and gardeners. However, as I warned over a year ago, it capped the number of permits for these private activities at 250,000 while also penalizing the new entrepreneurs with stiff tax rates. It doesn’t take a Nobel Prize winner in economics to realize that Cuba’s nascent private sector wouldn’t be able to make room for all of the newly unemployed. What then for these people?

Earlier this year I talked to an official from the U.S. Interest Section in Havana who told me that we shouldn’t be surprised if we see a steady increase of Cubans trying to escape the island towards the United States. Faced with a dilapidated economy, hundreds of thousands of unemployed, and growing social unrest, the Castro regime wouldn’t hesitate in letting more Cubans use the “escape valve” of emigration. We might be seeing the first signs of this.