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Cuba's Shifts; Tea Party's Wins

Cuba fires half a million workers. Fidel Castro makes headlines. We look at Cuba’s ground-breaking shifts. Plus, Politico‘s Jonathan Martin on Tea Party wins and GOP soul-searching.

Cuba's leader Fidel Castro greets students before delivering a speech outside Havana's University in Havana, Cuba, Friday, Sept. 3, 2010. (AP)

There’s been headline after headline out of Cuba lately. The latest and biggest – the Cuban government, which runs over 95 percent of the Cuban economy – will lay off half a million workers. One in every ten government employees. That is huge. Doubly huge in one of the world’s last socialist countries. 

What will all those workers do, when there’s so little private sector? Raise rabbits, says the government. Make bricks. 

Even Fidel Castro is making new noises these days. Is this the next little China?  We look at the big news out of Cuba. 

Plus, we turn an eye back home, and see what Tea Party victories mean for the GOP.

-Tom Ashbrook

Opening segments:


Frances Robles, correspondent for the Miami Herald. She covers Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.

Tom Gjelten, correspondent for NPR. He covers global security and economic issues. He’s author of “Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause.”

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, renowned economist and Cuba expert. He’s professor emeritus of economics and Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He was an advisoer to President Carter on Cuba policy.

Jose Azel, senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.

Closing segment:

Guest:  Jonathan Martin, senior political writer for Politico.com. His article on the primaries is Soul-searching time: A GOP torn.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • informed American

    The bottom line is that socialism is a total failure that only leads to economic ruin.

  • Joshua Hendrickson

    Informed American (and I use the name advisedly):

    I don’t defend Castro, but his is not the only model of socialism out there. Socialism seems to work pretty well in some European countries. Sadly for US, capitalism is the system that seems to have its own built-in self-destruct button, a kind of auto-cannibalism that works slowly under regulation and quickly under deregulation. Greed eats itself. And let us never forget: money is an illusion, but the things we do to earn money and the goods and services we buy with it are real. Hence, money is ultimately unnecessary to society, and one day we will either be mature enough to accept that, or we’ll be dead. I can hazard a guess which state you’ll be in.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Cuba is far from perfect but the socialized healthcare system that they have seems to work better for them than ours does for us.

    Michael Moore, while over the top in many ways, documents this in a segment of his movie Sicko.


  • jeffe

    I’ve never thought I would see the day that I would be agree with “informed american” but he’s right. Look at all the Eastern block countries and Cuba, total economic failures.

    Joshua you are confusing social democratic systems such as Germany,France and the Netherlands with communist/socialist countries such as Cuba. The social democracies are capitalist countries with socialized health care and other safety nets. Cuba is a communist country with the state running everything. They are going to fire almost 60% of the sate workers and basically hang them out to dry.

    The only good thing about Cuba is the health care system and it’s music schools. They produce some of the best Latin and Jazz musicians in the world.

    Cuba is a real economic failure and it desperately needs a huge, and I mean huge amount of investment and from what I heard on the radio yesterday even with billions it still might fail as an economic entity.

    In theory socialism sounds good but in practice it does not work. Just as our über capitalist system does not work. The idea, at least too me is a balance. The problem is revenue and as we can see if unemployment is high all systems fail. There really is no perfect economic system. Capitalism works because it does have the potential to empower people. The problem is we have lost that in this country recently. People are not able to move up and wages have been flat here for over 20 years. I digress, this show is about Cuba.

    Cuba is such a small country and it has given the world some great musicians and music: Mario Bauzá, Celia Cruz, Chano Pozo, Rubén González, Paquito D’Rivera, Machito to name a few. The list is amazing and the influence on American music is quite astonishing.

  • Al Dorman

    Why are we censoring the internet?
    Sites like http://www.cuba-hemingway.com are blocked by OFAC. Doesn’t this reduce us as a people, rather than protect us?

  • Ellen Dibble

    I heard Castro was telling those half million to start their own little home businesses. I thought, OMG, he’s been drinking MY Koolaid. (I’ve been saying we need locally rooted “livings” rather than jobs dependent on Corporate (Lobbying) Powers.)
    So I’m wondering are Castro’s Red Communist bones essentially anti-corporate? Were the takeovers an institutional allergy to the kind of power that Corporate Greed can accumulate?
    Back when the USSR sort of defined the True Colors of Red Communism, I don’t think the Russia of serfs and czars had any acquaintance of any kind with Corporations. But by the time Castro came along, the threat of Corporate Influence would have been a real factor. (Or maybe this turn away from Government is Everyhing reflects a realization of greed’s actual destructive role in his old age. Except that he’s probably shopping around for investments from abroad, which sort of defeats the idea of home-grown self-sufficiency or however he might like to define it.)

  • cory

    Hard to call Cuban style socialism a failure when the world’s largest economy, 90 miles from their shores, has boycotted their economy and tried to undermine them at every turn for the last 50 years.

    They still have better healthcare, infant mortality and literacy than we do.

    I believe history will regard Castro as a hero who attempted to save Cuba from the fate of most tropical island nations. That is poverty for the natives and foreign ownership of the infastructure (see Jamaica, Hawaii, etc. etc.)

    To those of you who like to crow about socialism being a failed ideology… The best expression of socialism is as a mitigating for to temper free market capitalism.

  • cory

    sorry. should’ve read “mitigating force”.

  • jeffe

    cory show me one successful socialist country.
    I’m not a huge fan of American capitalism but you have to get real here, there are none. Point to Jamaica is also a bit silly. I can put up Bermuda or a host of other Caribbean island nations that are doing pretty well.

    Castro himself now says that aligning his country with the former USSR and depending on them for financial support was a huge mistake. It’s a failed system.

    Again people need to get their facts straight between the political system like Cuba’s and the social democracies such as Germany. If you can’t tell the difference or think they are the same you are very much mistaken.

  • cory


    1. You don’t like Jamaica’s example? How about Hawaii? How do you think Cuba would have ended up with Batista, the mafia, and American capitalists calling the shots? I’d think that you of all posters would applaud someone standing against such exploitation. Take a 5 mile train ride on Maui and you’ll see 5 star resorts with world class golf courses directly adjacent to one room shacks with rusted out cars and refridgerators in the front yard.

    2. Carribean nations doing well? Who is doing well there?

    3. Successful socialist nations? France, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia, the Low Countries are all far more socialist than we are and are arguably doing BETTER. Call capitalism the galloping clydesdale and socialism the tack, harness, and plow that make the horse productive for everyone. There are no absolutes- capitalist or socialist.

  • brandstad

    I wish we could lay off 10% of all government employees here in the US! Obama should watch Cuba’s change and follow their lead!

  • Dee

    All empires and all poltical systems eventually fail. Something we here in the US ought to remember and consider.

  • brandstad


    France is not a great example of a socialist success. It has had street rioting in the suburbs of Paris for over a year with 100′s of cars torched and other vandalism. People there are unhappy due to lack of jobs, racial tensions. Not to mention their debt crisis that is pending.


  • William

    I never understood the liberals love affair with Castro.

  • BHA

    jeffe: “Castro himself now says that aligning his country with the former USSR and depending on them for financial support was a huge mistake.”

    They did VERY well suckling at the USSR’s teats. His mistake was in not denouncing the USSR when it failed. The BEST way for a small country to get money is to be the enemy of a country that is an enemy of the USA. Our foreign policy has long been “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

  • Tatiana

    No matter where I look for answers, the only common factor I can find for the difficulties faced by less developed countries is a past of extractive colonization. Yes, the US was also a colony, but everyone who has studied history knows how different the American experience of colonialism was when compared to that of the Caribbean, South American, and African nations.

    All of those past colonies tried to find a good way to get out of poverty and to strengthen their institutions once independence was reached, but they have all failed by varying degrees. Even the BRICs, with all the economic growth still face deep structural and social problems that challenge their future progress and stability. Perhaps in 4 or 5 generations things will finally improve and those countries will catch up to their past colonial rulers, but for now, I highly doubt there will be significant change for the better in any of those, including Cuba.

  • jeffe

    cory France, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia, the Netherlands are not socialist countries. They are social democracies. You seem to have a problem understanding the difference, and if you don’t think there is you need to go look it up.

    Within the EU there are huge differences between Germany and France and the Netherlands as well as Denmark in who they work as social democracies.

    You seem to think that a communist system like Cuba’s is better? I don’t think so. What Cuba is doing is what Greece is trying to do.

  • Peter Gariepy (Gair-a-pee)

    Welcome to the 21st century. We have entered a new world economy whether you are in Cuba, China, or America. With advances in technology there is less of a need for the traditional blue-collar worker. We need to reinvent the workforce here and across the world. Cuba should go to a free market economy and let the creativity of its people create jobs. Many will be small business jobs much like what is happening her in the US.

  • BHA

    jeffe: “They are going to fire almost 60% of the sate workers and basically hang them out to dry.”

    The number is 10%, not 60%. No matter, it is still going to be VERY VERY PAINFUL.

  • lowell reeves

    No job, no problem. One thing that is not a concern is health care coverage. Can the greatest health care system in the world say the same thing?

  • BHA

    Peter, your idea would work better if the USA canceled the economic embargo. There is no value in it. A free market Cuba still needs someone to sell to and the USA is the closest market they can get.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Tom Gjelton was pointing with the example of the toymaker to the fact of no foreign currency, therefore no imported Chinese trinkets in tourist markets.
    Is that changing?
    Do they have taxes? On the self-employed? Apparently so, or they wouldn’t have so many doing it “illegally,” as OnPoint began by saying many of the 500,000 being fired ALREADY do illegal self-employment.

  • http://challenginglachesis.blogspot.com Dave Eger

    Could one of your guests who know’s more about it than myself comment on Bukharin and his New Economic Policy. I think that he was getting at a solution to problems like this by allowing the people to run markets while still keeping industry state run. To me it sound’s like the right idea for a socialist state to head towards, but of course to Stalin, it sounded like a good reason to have Bukharin killed.

  • Ellen Dibble

    If Cuba can “stay off the teats” of the current strain of “colonizers” (I’m speaking of corporations like Coca-Cola), they will be an interesting model. Square one: Can they grow food to actually feed themselves.

  • m

    If I hear one more idiot say that Cuba has a better system whether it be healthcare or economic I’m gonna scream. The China model also will not work because China has a billion people. It also has so many more poor people compared to US. Our poor still have a car, apartment and big screen tv… Cuba’s system didn’t work just like all the communist systems don’t work. Wake up!

  • Peter Gariepy

    To respond to BHA, I disagree. Look at South Korea, one of the fastest growing economies is the world. Look around at how many S. Korean cars are driving by you on the highway next time you out.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I think the American colonies split off from England BEFORE its wealth had left our shores. I think some like Thomas Jefferson had their own wealth, and didn’t want to be taxed on behalf of the British Empire, that sort of thing. So they preempted the sort of problem other colonies had in becoming free.
    That’s very broad. But Cuba is not starting out as a deeply colonized, wealth being-run-from-overseas, being-plundered point. They’ve had half a century of being purged of that, right?

  • William Maher

    Hey, NPR, where’s the lefty-marxist oracle, Jack Beatty, to tell us how wonderfully his O’Bama system is working in Cuba.
    Where’s the marxist “economist” Paul Krugman to tell us Cuba just needs a bigger stimulus package? Why has the entire world been emigrating in a bee-line to one place over the last 100 years. You know, that country(the United States) that still has a few shreds of Capitalism left to provide you with the best living standard in history. Capitalism means freedom; socialism means slavery. If you want to leave your horrible free market capitalist job, you’re free to leave in a capitalist system, Vladimir.
    You’re also free to join up with your wonderful socialist/communist/progressive friends and build your own self-contained socialist unit in a capitalist system –oops–I forgot–how would your socialist enterprise keep its head above water without sponging from the capitalists.

  • Chris

    The GOP is splintering and Tea-Party nominees will never make it in the general election because they are too extreme.

  • BHA

    At what point do the mid-term election voters figure out that the ‘Tea Party’ has nothing other than cries to cut taxes and government.

    Where is the road map?
    Which programs get cut?

    We will be in sad shape if the House and Senate are run by people who have no plan on how their ‘platform goals’ will be achieved.

  • Dennis.in.Omaha

    Changes in Cuba present us with an opportunity for improvement in the world condition. There are Americans who have had their property rights taken away and still have a claim. If their civil rights can be restored, then it can set a legal precedent to restore civil rights in other countries.

    For example, there are Americans in Omaha who are the original owners of the Tel-Aviv airport. There are, by coincidence, Americans in Omaha who are the original owners of property in East Germany who could have their civil right to have property restored.

    And if these Americans can have their civil rights restored, that will help others around the world also.

  • BHA

    That would be my point Peter. We don’t have an economic embargo against South Korea. We have had one against Cuba for all but 6 years of my life and I’m 54 years old.

  • l

    I heard the crack about “flat earth” when it comes to the Tea Party. I wonder does anyone know that the majority of the Tea Party movement is more educated than the rest of the population in the US. So all you liberal so called elitists can go home and think about that for awhile. There is a reason why the midwest in the US is doing better than the coasts and bigger cities whhen it comes to the economy and pretty much everything else. It’s because we have values and the intelligence to back it up. Come to Iowa or places like the Dakotas and see what I’m talking about. Smart down to earth people that take care of their own states, economy and people.

  • Dennis.in.Omaha

    The one issue that the tea-party is silent on is the “wal-mart tax deduction”.

    In essence, wal-mart and many others deducts their import expenses from their taxes. This takes the jobs away from the rest of us who have to make up the difference they should have paid.

    Also, by deducting the cost of diesel fuel from the bill, it causes us taxpayers to create a subsidy for the shipping while they drive up the cost of gasoline for us at the pump.

    Since wal-mart is significantly owned by the communist party in china, this amounts to tax dollars subsidizing economic and military development to china.

    Also, this tax deduction motivates china to do bad things like keeping myanmar (burma) in their control. When we buy electronics made in china, by their own people in sweatshops, we are also subsidizing the slavery in Myanmar mineral mines to get the rare earth materaials.

    This particular tax deduction – the costs of importing – is the single biggest threat to the free market economy and civil right and the environment and democracy and freedom and the very existence of humanity itself.

  • Peter Gariepy

    BHA, why does Cuba need to sell to the US? There is a world of consumers. The fastest growing market of consumers is in China.

  • michael

    lol big tea party victories what two? out of how many this cycle? As it goes still around 90% of Incumbents are still here.

    the guy tom had on at the end was pretty funny. Grass roots(lol) Big victories(lol) all those red states that are doing okay are still getting massive about of government aids, esp in medicare so there hardly doing such on there own. Take away all those farm subsidies and Defense and see how there doing.

    So funny how the right thinks massive victories when a few canidates win and a call against the democrat agenda, but when a tea party canidate losses in many of the other races………………………… nothing.

    As for Cuba Jose Azel was really the only one that brouth any insight to the show today the rest was just guessing

  • michael

    “massive amounts of government aids”

    The tea party canidate is cute atleast, Larry F. is sure to take Advantage of this. Remember the tea party express leader was the one who wrote that racist letter of slaves to lincoln (Mark Williams)

  • Mark

    I stated “There is a reason why the midwest in the US is doing better than the coasts and bigger cities whhen it comes to the economy and pretty much everything else.”

    Uh, because in the 80′s, 90′s and this decade, there’s been a mass exodus from the mid-west to the coasts. So your housing prices never rose. It did on the coasts, thus the bubble. It has nothing to do with your “values” or “intellect,” which I’ll argue that there are more intellects on the coasts than in the mid-west (NYC, DC, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, Atlanta, MA, the whole Northeast). In the mid-west there’s basically Chicago? I’m sure I’m leaving out some college towns.

    Regardless, your regionalist argument is rather petty.

  • Mark

    I wrote “I wonder does anyone know that the majority of the Tea Party movement is more educated than the rest of the population in the US.”

    I’m not generalizing, but I’m guessing that the most intellectual crowd in America is academia. My hunch is that the VAAAAAAAAAAAST majority of these folks are certainly not tea party types, particularly in that the Tea Party holds much disdain for educators (those darn liberal indoctrinators!).

    Community college doesn’t count. There is a big difference between the Ivy League, and the higher tier state universities and the local HVAC tech school.

    But, I do suppose there are many tea baggers with an MBA, if I’m going to stereotype.

  • Mark

    nformed American, I assume you oppose the GI Bill.

  • http://respectlabor@gmail.com Gatita

    It’s too bad the show cannot (will not?) endeavor to find heterodox economists for analytical tasks; the guests (mostly Cuban-Americans and anti-Castro) are biased and therefore unable to give us a clear look at the Cuban political-economy outside of the usual neo-liberal, neo-classical view.
    What I find amazing is how little factual information can be transmitted in a thirty minute segment… Most of the information is anecdotal, the comparisons unimaginative by chicken-littles whose declarations have fallen short every time (experts though they may seem).
    Remember when you hear talk about the lack of freedom and ensuing passivity of Cuban citizens (did someone say they suffered from the “Stockholm syndrome”?) that the U.S. policy banning travel (and research?) to the island may be responsible for creating a paucity of information and real objective data about Cuba.

  • b

    I think when the person was talking about the midwest they were talking about the fiscal side of things for the most part. I live in the Dakotas and the reason we have not had such a hit on the economy is because we are fiscally conservative. Now you can debate this, but look at the rest of the country that has the most problems. It is the areas that have programs and budgets that they can’t afford. This doesn’t have anything to do with racism either. I live in an area that I am not afraid to leave my doors unlocked and have my kids play outside all over town. This is because good people live here whatever their race is.

  • http://smallsystemsdesignassociates.com Jerry Smetzer

    I’m the TP movement described as a “grass roots” movement that derives it’s strength from the lack of a single leader. To me, the TP is hugely financed PR campaign and somebody is paying for it. My example is here in Alaska where the TP candidate received “…hundreds of thousands of dollars from the TP.” Is that money all coming from the Koch brothers, as suggested by Judith Mayer in the New Yorker magazine? If not them, who?

  • tweny-niner

    “Just as our über capitalist system does not work. The idea, at least too me is a balance.”

    I’m not sure how über capitalist we really are. Our tax rates aren’t that much lower than Germany’s which among the highest combined corporate and personal tax rates in the world:

    Corporate: 15-39% (federal) + 0-12% (state)
    Individual: 0-35% (federal) + 0-10.55% (state)
    Payroll: 15.3%
    Sales/VAT: 0-10.25%

    Corporate: About 30%
    Individual: 0-45%
    Payroll: 41% (healthcare, retirement, unemployment)
    Sales/VAT: 7%-19%

    Notice the big difference is the payroll tax where, in Germany, this includes the cost of health care.

    If you want closer to über capitalist, look at a countries like South Korea and New Zealand :


  • Alex

    “I’m not sure how über capitalist we really are. Our tax rates aren’t that much lower than Germany’s which among the highest combined corporate and personal tax rates in the world”

    I would say that it is not the amount of taxation, but the way the tax dollar is spent that determines whether a country is capitalist or socialist or something in between. Here, if the country spends anything on health care or social security it comes from dedicated withholdings for those purposes. The general income tax dollar is spent mostly on the bureaucracy, the military, corporate subsidies and government contracts. There is very little socialist type spending here. I may be wrong, though.

  • twenty-niner

    “There is very little socialist type spending here. I may be wrong, though.”

    Here are the numbers:
    Fed spending: 3.72 Trillion (1.56 T deficit: 42%)

    Medicare/aid: .829 Trillion (22.3%)
    Welfare: .557 Trillion (15.0%)
    Social Security: .722 Trillion (19.4%)
    Education: .157 Trillion (4.2%)

    So over half the Federal budget (56.7%, over 60% if you factor in education) is devoted to social programs.


  • Carolina

    I am the daughter of an American man and Cuban woman who met and married in Havana prior to the revolution. My older brother was born there and although my family left shortly after the revolution, we returned 46 years later and returned again 3 times in order to help our remaining family members there. What impressed me about my visits, staying with family members only after government agency approval and the payment of some money, is the pacivity and complacency of the populace in Havana. Private enterprise has been thriving for some time in Havana as observed in the streets with the buying or trading of food for american dollars, goods or other services. There are private hotels, private restaurants, private guides for travel purposes/tourism and private taxis. If a person thinks they can get away with earning american dollars, they will take advantage of that opportunity and I don’t blame them. There has been no substantial food in the ration shops which have been empty for years. It is my opinion that the embargo should be lifted and Americans should be allowed to travel freely to that country. The loss of government jobs will not necessarily plunge this country into despair. Hopefully, the dictatorship minders (those that keep their eyes on and ears listening to their neighbors, family members or visitors)will be cut from the poorly paid payroll (maybe $20 per month). Those positions are really non-essential functions. Cuba already owes its friends and it’s foes (the USA) billions of dollars that it will never pay. Yes, it is admirable that Cuba provides free education and free health care but what is that health care like? I know that Cuba has well educated and trained physicians but there are no medicines, no equipment to treat whatever ails you and very poorly maintained hospitals. If you need medicines, you get it from your family, you go to Miami for treatment or you rely on your friends and neighbors to come through with what you need. America has been shipping food to Cuba for over a decade on humanitarian grounds. I hope to revisit Cuba and look for more basic human rights, the overthrow of this pitiful dictator and the emergence of an independent and willing nation. Viva la patria – Cuba Libre!

  • Dana Franchitto

    I want to know why on “public” radio, no socialists were invited on to offer their view of Cuba’s plan to lay off thousands of state workers. This show was framed on the simplistic assumption that captialism is good and socialism is bad. well even in the ultimate free enterprise zone the USA despite arguable claims of the economy gaining momentum many Americans are still unemployed. The richest country in the world is still plagued, needlessly by abject poverty. so much for the glories of the “free market”(for the record ,as a socialist I’m no fan of castro)

  • millard_fillmore

    I’m amazed at how those who praise Cuba’s health system, elide over the persecution of dissenters, and lack of free speech. Where does Cuba stand when it comes to personal freedom? And I wasn’t aware that one-party rule was so desirable to so many Americans.

    Second point: Is Cuba’s economy really so dependent on trade with USA, that it just cannot survive otherwise? What about other Central American and South American countries and their trade with Cuba – I doubt that these countries too have a trade embargo? Or am I missing something here?

    What would people, who clamor for lifting of trade embargo want – another NAFTA-like agreement with Cuba? And then 5 years down the line, these same people would start bellyaching about how bad this trade agreement is, and how it has ruined Cuba’s economy. Seems like either way, one can’t win that argument, since it will always be America’s fault.

  • wavre

    Those da…cubans, with their lack of freedom,civil and human rights,rule of laws ect…

    No wonder they have that prison called Guantanamo:)

    Ironic, isn’t?

  • Joshua Hendrickson


    socialist or social democratic nations?

    Of course there is a difference, and I’ll bet you most everyone in this thread knows that. The point is that socialist structures can work. That they are best when modified by democracy rather than authoritarian governments is demonstrably true.

    I have always thought that authoritarian governments, whether they are socialist like Cuba’s, or capitalist like modern China’s, are evil. The tendency in communist countries has been towards repressive regimes, but then, such regimes are common in many nations with all kinds of economies. It is a plague that mankind has yet to cure itself of.

    As far as I’m concerned, Cuba and the United States, for all of their flaws and virtues, are neither of them good (or horrible) models of nationhood. I’ll take a social democracy like Sweden as the best model, and decry an anti-democratic capitalist nation like China as the worst model. Unfortunately, Americans despise Sweden and are in bed with China … what businessman wouldn’t love China’s example?

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