Two news stories about Cuba intertwined this week. The first was the propaganda campaign on the Castro-Diaz-Canel's economic team and its meeting with "businesspeople" of the community of Cuban exiles eager to boost business with the "new private sector" emerging in the form of MSMEs, all to demonstrate Cuba's "current opening up." Then there was the publication of the 2023 Economic Freedom Index, issued annually by the Heritage Foundation, in which Cuba has dropped again, now occupying second-to-last place (175) among the 176 countries analyzed. That is, only North Korea, in last place (176), was ranked lower than Cuba. Even Venezuela, Iran and Haiti rank above it.
The United States is right when it says that it is necessary to analyze root causes of migratory exoduses. One of the reasons for the exodus is the absence of economic freedom on Cuba to seek prosperity within the country's national borders, but this is not the only freedom necessary for a country's internal stability. Cuba is a perfect example of this.
In January of 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt laid out his concept of the "four essential freedoms" that America should protect and promote: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
Since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948, the demand for more and more rights and freedoms has been expanding, but this should not lead to forget that some are basic to the prosperity and stability of a society, and resemble those enunciated by Roosevelt.
In 1988, Amartya Sen was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on the indissoluble relationship between development and freedom. Sen showed that freedom in general —not just economic freedom— is the most efficient means of achieving prosperity.
Countries witnessing mass exoduses are those not only with mediocre governments, but where the system of governance (institutions, laws, regulations) does not protect basic freedoms. In an economically free society, people can work, produce, consume and invest any way they want. In economically free societies, governments allow labor, capital, and goods to move freely and refrain from coercing or restricting freedom beyond what is necessary to protect and maintain freedom itself.
Even an economically free society, however, can suffer other evils, such as criminality and corruption, citizen insecurity, oligarchical concentrations of power, and an inability to control the activities of public officials, affecting citizens' desire to invest and reside within their country. Cuba is lacking not only economic freedoms, but all others as well.
The idea that a private sector has emerged in Cuba capable of creating the prosperity necessary to dissuade its citizens from migrating is unfounded.
When Barack Obama sought detente with Cuba, at least there was a "non-state" sector (not the same as a "private" one) whose growth and competitiveness expanded significantly, despite all the restrictions on it (including the fact that people did not own their businesses, but were only self-employed in them). The Cuban government then crushed this sector self-employed workers through bans, taxes and police harassment before (not after) Trump moved into the White House.
MSMEs are now the façade of a state sector that needs to be dressed up as a private one to evade embargo sanctions. To be allowed to run their businesses (which is not the same as legally "owning" them) Cubans need to be politically connected, or at least have "good records" ever since elementary school; that is, ones never tainted by ideological transgressions.
The Hope for Cuba Foundation, which is lobbying officials in Washington to lift sanctions on Havana, should know. If they want to give the people hope, they should lobby the elite in favor of basic civil liberties. I urge Hope for Cuba to lobby for the Cuban people, not their oppressors. To lobby for freedom. Because freedom will spawn progress, development and opportunities to establish and foster real businesses.
With freedom there will be prosperity for all. With MSMEs and GAESA, there will be wealth for the few, and penury for most Cubans.