Afro-Cubans’ new role, and Cuba’s 500,000 layoffs

From the Nov.-Dec. 2010 issue of News & Letters:

World in View: Afro-Cubans’ new role

by Gerry Emmett

Last month, the Cuban government announced that it would lay off 500,000 state employees by early next year. This comes as part of a long-term plan to promote private enterprise alongside state-run enterprises in developing an economic model similar in intent to China’s variant of state-capitalism.

President Raúl Castro had earlier suggested that as many as one million workers could be laid off–out of a work force of 5.1 million. The specter of layoffs has raised concerns about the effect upon the government’s already meager social safety net, which subsidizes food, housing and transport along with providing free education and healthcare. It would be a profound change that could take many directions.

It remains to be seen how this will impact one of the biggest issues facing Cuban society, the continuing legacy of racism that has left the Afro-Cuban majority under-represented in the Communist Party state leadership and over-represented in Cuba’s prisons. Concerns have been raised previous to the announcement that most money to start new businesses will come from white Cuban Americans, exacerbating the existing inequalities. Afro-Cubans’ vibrant movement for civil and cultural rights and space will have an important role in the coming period of change.

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