Private Taxis in Cuba?

Is there now a light ahead in Cuba after decades of repressive communist rule? With his brother Fidel now on the sidelines, Cuban President Raúl Castro has recently lifted a nine-year-old ban on private taxis, “potentially legalizing thousands of unauthorized cabbies who cruise its cities in classic American cars.” As AP reports, Fidel Castro, who imposed the previous ban, had incredibly opposed private cabbies as “enriching themselves at the expense of egalitarian goals.” I gather that for Fidel, only a massive, crushing, incompetent, and inherently corrupt State transportation monopoly/bureaucracy would do.

But, is Raúl’s move simply to recognize the de facto existence of the thousands of illegal cabs that have long outnumbered the legal government ones, as dissident economist and human rights activist Oscar Espinosa Chepe suggests? After all, Transportation Minister Jorge Luis Sierra has not as yet indicated how many private cabs will be allowed.

However, Raúl may also be responding to the fact that Cuba’s failed “socialist paradise” is just not all that popular after all. A recent survey of Cubans completed after Raúl’s taking office indicates that economic problems rank highest, with the New York Times reporting that “70 percent of those interviewed saying they did not believe that the authorities would resolve the country’s biggest problem in the next few years. . . . More than 80 percent said they backed a market economic system that included the right to own property and run businesses.”

Overall, the survey found that for the Cuban people, “Cuba’s problems were ranked this way: low salaries and high cost of living, double currency standard, lack of political freedoms, embargo and isolation, food scarcity, lack of medicines, poor transportation infrastructure and lack of housing or dilapidated conditions.”

Of course and to say the least, the Cuban regime has never really paid much attention to what the public wanted one way or the other—this is after all what dictatorships are all about. Nevertheless, this now very public insight by the Cuban people is most important and coincides with that documented in Lessons from the Poor: Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, our new book edited by Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa, which shows the irreplaceable power of private entrepreneurship to overcome abject poverty.

Hence we can only hope that legalized private taxis can begin to carry the Cuban people toward the long-overdue arrival of market-based enterprise and the rule of law.

David J. Theroux is Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Institute.
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