CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Carmelo Mesa presents on Raul Castro's reforms in Cuba

April 9th, 2013

Tulane University and the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research welcomed back Carmelo Mesa Lago for a lecture on March 18th on Raul Castro’s economic and social reforms in Cuba. Mesa Lago was the 2009 Greenleaf distinguished professor in Latin American studies at Tulane University.

On March 18th, Mesa Lago, current professor of economics and Latin American studies at the University of Pittsburgh, presented findings and observations on both the progress and obstacles in Cuba’s recent economic and social reforms under Raul Castro. Citing economic slowdowns and structural inefficiencies, Mesa Lago showed how Fidel’s brother has demonstrated a more pragmatist position towards Cuba’s economic woes in comparison to the previous administration. Looking at these reforms as three types, Mesa Lago illustrated a Cuban administration that now looks to enact policies well-oriented for economic growth, but that are unable to completely and quickly overturn the problems accumulated by five decades of centralized socialism.

Administrative changes, such as the reorganization of state entities and a campaign against labor corruption, tend to be less complex and thus more effective. Similarly, non-structural reforms like payment of debts and nominal increases in salary are quicker to show efficacy due to a simpler method of implementation. Structural reforms, however, such as a 2011 updating of the economic model, are shown to be much more difficult and complex problems to solve.

Professor Mesa Lago gave compelling evidence of these complexities with cases such as the usufruct land ownership system, in which large obstacles in both geography and state ownership practices hinder agricultural progress. Additionally, he looked at the abundance of unnecessary state jobs, as well as too many specific and unskilled workers, as a hurdle to creating more productive non-state jobs.

Reflecting on the structural, non-structural, and administrative changes enacted in the past seven years, Professor Mesa Lago showed a Cuba in transition: He showed a nation struggling to merge 50 years of socialist practices with the needs of a modern economy.

-Michael Legendre