Front Door to Cuba

On Economic Performance

An excerpt from the book:
CUBA: A Short History
Drawn from the Cambridge History of Latin America
Edited by Leslie Bethell, Cambridge University Press
Page 115

The Cuban revolutionary government sought to generate economic growth from the moment it arrived in power but except for the recovery of the early 1970s these policies did not succeed. There was no growth at all during the 1960s. The economy's performance after 1975 failed to reach many planned targets. It generated only modest real economic growth and suffered a major recession as well as serious international debt problems. The structure of production diversified only a little. Sugar remained king, generating about four-fifths of export revenue. However, the government had also implemented a strategy of import substituting industrialization, evolving gradually in the 1970s and continuing in the 1980s - decades after such strategies appeared in most major Latin American countries. Cuba's factories now provided a wider array of light-and medium-industry products. However, their inefficiency and the poor quality of their products remained a problem while non-sugar agricultural production continued to perform poorly with few exceptions (eggs, citrus fruits). Cuba was unable to diversify its international economic relations to any great extent: there was overwhelming dependence on one product (sugar cane) and one country (the Soviet Union). The tendency in the late 1970s and 1980s was to retain dependence on both.

On the other hand, government economic performance was impressive with respect to redistribution. coverThere was a strong and generally successful commitment to provide full employment for all able-bodied citizens (despite the reappearance of overt unemployment in the 1970s, reaching 5-4 percent in 1979), even at the cost of under-employment and inefficiency. Equally, access to basic goods at low prices was provided through the rationing system, even at the cost of subsidizing consumption. The government's policies in the 1960s dramatically reduced inequalities between social classes and between town and country. The improvement in the rural poor's standard of living was outstanding. The trend in the 1970s and early 1980s toward greater use of material incentives led to a new inequality that stimulated good managerial and worker performance. Nevertheless, the leadership retained its commitment to meet the basic needs of its people, and Cuba remained a very egalitarian society by Latin American standards.

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