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Cuba's public "privatization" debate

Cuba's Communist Party newspaper has been publishing unusually frank criticisms of Cuban socialism.

“We can’t keep living in the past. We have to think about the present and future of our country,” he wrote, adding that he believed “adjusting” socialism was needed to ensure its survival.

What’s not clear is when economic reforms may be enacted, nor how extensive they may be. With frustrations running high, many insist changes can’t wait. Even Cuba’s Catholic Church weighed in last week, publishing an editorial written by priest and economist P. Boris Moreno, who warned of “socioeconomic collapse” if reforms aren’t made.

And yet, if “privatization” is being floated in Granma and other official newspapers, does it indicate some package of liberalization measures have already been decided upon by the Castro government?

“I think these are changes that almost everyone supports, including many Communist Party militants, but I don’t know when they may occur” said dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who said he has been followed the debates “with great interest.”

“Raul Castro raised a lot of expectations, and people are growing frustrated he hasn’t done anything,” he said.

Since Raul Castro officially took over Cuba’s presidency from his elder brother in 2008, his government has enacted modest reforms to Cuba’s agricultural sector, putting unproductive state land in the hands of private farmers and cooperatives. But many services and small businesses — from watch repair to fast-food restaurants to bakeries — remain in state hands.

And not everyone seems eager for that to change, as other editorials appearing in Granma have urged “not to give capitalism an inch.”

“Now is not the time to create the conditions for the reintroduction of clever and treacherous capitalism into our homeland,” wrote J.L. Valdes Carrasco, exhorting readers to work harder, produce more food, and “place absolute trust in the leaders of the Revolution,” while calling on young people to “lead in the decisive stage of the Revolution,” the term used on the island to refer to the Castros’ socialist system.

One interesting feature of the Granma debates is that many of those who have submitted letters for and against economic reforms try to bolster their arguments by borrowing quotes from Fidel Castro’s speeches. Gonzalez, the 28-year-old, cited Castro’s words from a 2000 May Day speech in making his case: “Revolution is everything that should be changed.”

That partisans on both sides would quote Castro may be a preview of the political debates likely to ensue once he, Raul, and their generation of Cuban leaders is gone, and younger Cubans are left to sort out the island’s problems.