Cuba in 2015: Entrepreneurism on the Rise

For decades Cuba’s economy was caught in a pincer, constrained on one side by its commitment to Soviet-style communism and on the other by the embargo imposed by the United States in 1960. Agriculture suffered; shortages of goods and services abounded; entrepreneurism was invisible, indeed prohibited.

With the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba’s economy suffered greatly, as the considerable subsidies and foreign aid it had received from Moscow evaporated. The following years were known in Cuba as the Special Period (short for Special Period in Time of Peace). Seeing no way out, the Cuban government eventually loosened the curbs on its population and allowed some private businesses and farms to open.

When Raul Castro took the reins of power from his brother Fidel, more economic freedom was granted. And in late 2014, President Obama and Raul Castro agreed to changes that will, when enacted, open Cuba to more American goods and visitors and establish formal relations between the countries.

These changes are likely to have a profound effect on the Cuban economy; whether change will spread to the political arena is less clear. In January, a team of Baruch College journalists traveled to Cuba, and in these articles, slideshows and video they report on emerging entrepreneurism in Cuba, and the hopes and challenges it has generated.

Ajiaco Culture in Cuba: Doing More With Less
By Miguel Machado
The ingenuity and creativity with which Cubans have coped with scarcity.

A Cuban Farmer Plants for a Greener Future
Article by Lynn Chawengwongsa
Slideshow by Kerry Mack
Video by Shannon Jones
Can one man uproot decades of agricultural mismanagement? At La Finca Marta, Fernando Funes-Monzote plants a greener future.

Cuba’s Underground Delivery of TV and Films
By Julissa Soriano
With media and Internet access restricted, many Cubans resort to an underground service to view the latest and Latin American TV shows, video games and movies

Women in Cuba Turning to Entrepreneurism
By Stevie Borrello
In a culture historically defined by machismo, women entrepreneurs in Cuba are thriving.

Cuba’s Artists Wary of Looming Changes
By Brad Williams
With closer relations between the U.S. and Cuba, local artists wonder whether they will be winners or losers under new regulations.

Banking on Cubans’ Love of Parties
By Kerry Mack
A former economist leaves her government job to open a party-planning business, one of the few new businesses focused on the local market rather than the tourist sector.

One Man’s Quest for Cuban Beer
By Michael Machado
In a land plagued by scarcity, a visitor goes in search of a local brew.

Cuban Entrepreneurs With a Conscience
By Raquel Blanco
As gentrification and the spread of private restaurants and other small businesses transform Old Havana, some entrepreneurs are trying to give back to communities that haven’t benefited from the boom.

Finding a Safe Harbor in a Havana Restaurant 
By Trudy Knockless
A former prostitute speaks about the path he found to one of Cuba’s thriving paladar restaurants.

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One comment

  1. […] My students learned about the emerging entrepreneurial sector and the vagaries of being a so-called cuentapropista, both through Cuba Emprende, a private non-profit that helps train new entrepreneurs in Cuba, and from small family-run businesses. These businesses ranged from restaurants to companies like Nostalgiacar, which operates a car service and refurbishes vintage automobiles, to a party planning company. We discovered Cuban ingenuity, honed during the extreme austerity of the post-Soviet so-called Special Period, at Casa Vera, the guest house for foreign students where we stayed and where neighbors have banded together to form an informal cooperative, and at La Finca Marta, an experimental sustainable farm that supplies many of Havana’s top paladares, or private restaurants. We found paquete, the must-have gray-market digital package of entertainment—from soap operas to video games to local advertisements—that Cuban’s share among each other via USB and other computer storage devices. The excellent articles produced by my students can be seen here […]

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