Since inheriting the reins of power from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, Raúl Castro has allowed Cubans to open small-scale businesses. Some 450,000 Cubans, or about ten percent of the active work force, quickly took advantage of the new policy, opening private restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts, setting up taxi companies and beauty parlors, and offering their services in construction and electronics repair. In Entrepreneurial Cuba, two veteran Cuba watchers, the social scientists Ritter and Henken, interview many of these new business owners, detail the regulations governing their activities, and calculate the effective tax rates they pay. Particularly valuable are the chapters on the remaining underground economy—businesses not yet able or willing to come out of the shadows—and the contributors’ judicious assessments of the new regulations governing the still forming but promising worker-managed cooperative sector. Overall, the authors recognize the significance of Raúl’s reforms while finding them insufficient to pull the Cuban economy out of its doldrums. Certainly, Ritter and Henken would applaud U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent decision to authorize U.S. firms to engage with Cuba’s new entrepreneurs.
Kapcia takes readers on a well-informed tour of Cuba’s ruling elite. Although based primarily on existing sources, his sketches of leading personalities are engaging and thoughtful. However, his core argument—that other commentators have overplayed the centrality of Fidel Castro—is not altogether persuasive. Kapcia identifies three main components in the current power center: “stalwarts” and Communist Party functionaries resistant to change; reform-minded “specialists” and technocrats characterized by their quiet efficiency; and “reliable loyalists,” such as Raúl Castro’s heir apparent, Miguel Díaz-Canel, known for his political skills and trustworthiness (at least from Raúl’s perspective). In one of his theoretical riffs, Kapcia argues that governance in Castro-era Cuba is better understood as a radical socialist variant of corporatism (a system built on a hierarchy of interested parties) than as Soviet-style centralism. Kapcia is less enthusiastic about the emerging private sector and downplays it significance, labeling it a “new petty bourgeoisie” and assuring readers that Raúl has no intention of taking Cuba down the capitalist road—which Raúl took pains to confirm in remarks he made before Cuba’s legislature just a few days after announcing his intention to normalize relations with the United States.
Get the latest book reviews delivered to your inbox.
More Reviews on Western Hemisphere From This Issue