Government-controlled media coverage of Sunday’s nationwide May Day celebrations in Cuba this week cites the massive annual demonstrations as clear evidence that ordinary Cubans support the economic changes that were approved during last month’s Communist Party Congress in Havana. The reforms, which include major layoffs of state workers, an expansion of self-employment and a reduction in state subsidies for food and other basic goods, represent the first major shift in Cuba’s national economic policy in decades.
The viability of these reforms—specifically whether they will spur economic growth in Cuba—is the topic of the Spring 2011 Americas Quarterly’s Hard Talk Forum. Omar Everleny Peréz, an economist at the University of Havana’s Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana, argues that the proposed package of changes will likely be sufficient to revitalize Cuba’s ailing economy. However, Columbia University professor José Antonio Ocampo makes the claim that the proposed reforms fall short of what is necessary to create opportunities for the more than one million state employees who will lose their jobs over the next few years.
Although official details about the final draft of the reforms are not yet public, Cuban leadership has maintained that most Cubans wholeheartedly support the measures. Salvador Valdes Mesa, who heads Cuba's only government-approved trade union, was the only official to speak at the May Day parade in Havana, says the event demonstrated people’s support for the “economic and social policy of the revolution.”
José Ramón Machado Ventura, the newly appointed second secretary of the Communist Party, led Sunday’s march in Havana while President Raúl Castro did the same in Santiago de Cuba.