Market-style reforms widen racial divide in Cuba

Tue Sep 2, 2014 7:37am EDT
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By Rosa Tania Valdés and Daniel Trotta

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's experiment with free-market reforms has unintentionally widened the communist-led island's racial divide and allowed white Cubans to regain some of the economic advantages built up over centuries.

Under President Raul Castro, who took over from his brother Fidel Castro in 2008, Cuba has expanded its non-state workforce, loosened travel restrictions and promoted private cooperatives and small businesses.

As the communist government relinquishes its once near-total control of the economy, inequality has widened, undoing some of the progress seen since the 1959 revolution.

Much of the funding for new businesses such as restaurants, transportation services and bed-and-breakfast inns - targeted at tourists, diplomats and dollar-earners - comes from family members who emigrated to the United States over the last 50 years, especially Miami.

They sent almost $3 billion to relatives back in Cuba last year and, as they are mainly white, their investments put black and mixed-race Cubans at a disadvantage as they try to set up their own businesses.

Walter Echevarria, a 60-year-old black man, co-owns a humble cafeteria run out of a ground-floor Havana apartment belonging to one of his partners.

There is no seating, and the clients are mostly state workers who order pork sandwiches and juice or a coffee for about 15 Cuban pesos, or around $0.60.

"It's usually the whites who have family abroad and send them money, and they can set up bigger businesses," Echevarria said while customers lined up at the take-out window during the busy lunch hour.   Continued...

A man walks with his son in Havana September 1, 2014. Picture taken September 1, 2014.   REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa