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"Cuba After the Thaw"


In the Boston Review, Michelle Chase asks whether recent economic liberalization policies in Cuba have benefited the most disadvantaged sectors of Cuban society—namely, women and people of African descent:

For reasons that were already becoming apparent in the 1990s, Afro-Cubans are far less able to take advantage of the current round of economic reforms. They more frequently lack family abroad to send remittances that could be used to either offset their low salaries in the state sector or to start a small business in the private sector …

Recent studies by Cuban sociologists such as Dayma Echeverría, Teresa Lara, and Ileana Díaz suggest that the current restructuring may also disproportionately affect women. Women tend to be overrepresented in the ongoing layoffs from state-owned businesses because they are clustered in services rather than in the strategic sectors of mining, agriculture, manufacture, or pharmaceuticals. Even when women are not laid off but instead reassigned internally within state entities, some sociologists speculate that women may be getting shuffled downward toward positions of lower pay and responsibility. In general, women—especially younger and less educated ones—are being left out of the formal workforce at greater rates than men, producing a pool of women the Cuban government dubs inactivas: neither employed nor seeking work, and not enrolled in school.

In the private sector, men tend to be the licensed owners of the assets that form the foundation for most small businesses: agricultural plots, trucks, cars, and other goods. (An important exception to this rule is the large number of mostly white women proprietors who run small bed-and-breakfasts.) Men moreover may have easier access than women to private sources of credit and to the black market networks often essential to running a business in today’s Cuba. In addition, most of the state-approved occupations for small businesses are traditionally seen as masculine, such as taxi driver, farmer, or construction worker. Finally, many of the newly approved small business categories involve manual or artisanal labor, making them less attractive to professionals. The revolution’s much-lauded accomplishments in raising women’s rates of education—women are now 60 percent or more of college graduates—may have perversely left them ill-equipped for the niche markets of the new Cuba.

Image via Boston Review.