Cubans - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Since 1959, the Cuban government has endeavored to provide food security to its population and increase access to basic needs in housing, education, and medical care. Programs have been implemented to diversify and decentralize agricultural production, exploit nickel reserves, develop light industries, expand the fishing and tourist industries, and increase export earnings to provide for other development needs.

Before the collapse of the socialist bloc, over 40 percent of Cuba's food supply was imported. The National Rationing Board attempted to assure distribution of minimum basic food needs based on demographics. The island suffered severe food shortages in 1993 and 1994, following climatic disasters and the loss of most of its oil imports and 30 percent of its agrochemical, machinery, and parts imports. Attempts to address the crisis included the transformation of state farms into worker-owned enterprises or cooperatives, the reintroduction of farmers' markets, and new trade arrangements for food imports from other countries. The government also legalized private markets and private vendors and suppliers of services in many industries.

Industrial Arts. Cuba is well known for its production of handcrafted wood and cane furniture as well as folk-music instruments.

Trade. Until the 1990s, government-owned food stores set uniform prices for rationed foods. Prices remained fixed from the early 1960s to 1981, when they were increased slightly. Government nonrationed food markets were expanded in 1983 and 1994 to provide greater supplies and varieties of foods and to end black marketeering. Consumer goods remained under government ownership and control until 1994, when the government legalized the taxable, direct sale, without price controls, of crafts and surplus industrial goods by licensed private vendors. Price increases on services and some products followed the 1994 decriminalization of the dollar. Taxes were introduced in select areas.

Division of Labor. The traditional division of labor by gender— casa (home) and calle (street)—ascribed to urban, upper-class Latin American societies began to change significantly during World War II, as more middle-class women entered professional fields. In the postrevolutionary period, transference between gender-traditional occupations has made limited strides. Although women have become more educated, have entered new job fields, and play a greater role in political organizations, they continue to be concentrated in the traditional fields of education and public health and remain underrepresented in politics. The labor force of 3 million presently includes 30 percent engaged exclusively in agriculture, 20 percent in industry, 20 percent in services, 11 percent in construction, 10 percent in commerce, and 5 percent in government.

Land Tenure. Since eliminating foreign ownership and large private estates, which were legacies of the colonial system, agrarian reform has gone through several stages. By the mid-1980s, 80 percent of land had come under state ownership, 11 percent was organized into cooperatives, and 9 percent was held by private owners. Food crises forced alteration of this system in 1994. State farms were replaced by Basic Units of Cooperative Production, which are allowed to sell in farmers' markets any food they produce in excess of government requirements. To diversify the economy further and earn foreign exchange, the government entered into investment contracts with foreign enterprises in the fields of construction technology, consumer goods, mining, biotechnology, oil, sugar, and tourism.

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