Such gray-market microenterprises exemplify a spirit of dynamism and creativity straining to be fully unleashed, say some observers of Cuba. The question of the day: Is Raúl Castro about to release it?
The island nation's economy has struggled mightily since losing the support of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Free-market reforms within a socialist system, like the kind embraced by China, had been rejected by Fidel Castro, who ruled for a half century. But there are signs that younger brother Raúl, who permanently replaced Fidel in February, may orchestrate a move toward a more capitalist economy.
Raúl's reputation as a pragmatist is unfurling expectations here that the era of asceticism and austerity is coming to a close. Major agricultural reforms have been unveiled. And in a speech earlier this month, he seemed to be preparing the populace for an economic shift.
"Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of opportunities, not of income," Raúl said on July 11 while addressing Cuba's rubber-stamp parliament in its first session since he replaced Fidel. "Equality is not egalitarianism."
It's hard to imagine the father of the 1959 revolution ever uttering such words, say Cuba analysts. And a recent flurry of headline-grabbing changes – such as allowing Cubans to patronize tourist hotels and to own cellphones, DVD players, and computers – is fueling speculation about how fast Raúl will pursue the "China model" of a managed creep toward free markets. Some expect more reforms to be announced during a speech by Raúl on July 26, Revolution Day.