2
Treading Water: Cuba's Economic and Political Crisis

Andrew Zimbalist

The historical conditions that allowed for the survival of a socialist state just ninety miles from the world's largest and most powerful capitalist state have changed. There is no longer a protective socialist community to buffer Cuba from the ravages of the U.S. embargo. The institutions of Cuba's socialist state already have been transformed and the economy is moving toward a mixed system.

The proximate cause of Cuba's present predicament is not hard to identify. Cuba has a small and heavily trade-dependent economy. In the presence of the U.S. embargo, Cuba came to depend on the former Soviet trade bloc ( CMEA) for over four-fifths of its imports. Without access to the U.S. market, with access to other markets restricted, and with imports from the former CMEA countries reduced by over three-fourths, Cuba's economy and its people are struggling to survive.

The government's response to the crisis has been deliberate but inadequate. A number of reforms initiated prior to 1989 are being continued, 1 while others are being accelerated and some new programs are being put in place. The new emphasis on foreign investment and tourism, structural reforms in the operation of foreign trade, and the impossibility of central planning in the presence of ubiquitous supply uncertainties have combined to transform the nature of Cuba's economic mechanism. Despite the promise of some extension of private enterprise and the market in the service sector, however, the needed and more concerted introduction of a broader market mechanism has not been forthcoming.


CUBA'S TRADE DEPENDENCY

Similar to other small economies, Cuba has always been very trade dependent. Indeed, during 1987-89, Cuba's imports as a share of its Ingreso

-7-

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