MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Cuba, according to President Raul Castro, is facing a very serious economic crisis. It has been forced to cut spending on marquee social programs such as health care and education. Raul Castro officially took over as president last year from his brother, Fidel. In an effort to revive the economy, he's launched his own quiet revolution on the island.
NPR's Jason Beaubien has that story.
Ms. ADELE SILVA: (Foreign language spoken)
JASON BEAUBIEN: In the eastern city of Holguin, Adele Silva lives in a house where much of the roof has collapsed. Gravel is piled in the living room and a flock of chickens resides just off the kitchen. Silva says she's happy.
Ms. SILVA: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: I am happy. I am happy, she says, because I enjoy any situation, and I take a positive attitude. She says in Cuba she always feels protected.
Last year, Hurricane Ike ripped the roof off the back of Silva's house. Just recently, the government brought her bags of sand, bricks and a truckload of gravel, which she will use to repair the house herself. Despite the delay, she says the Cuban state looks after its people.
Ms. SILVA: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Here, there's social security. It's very special, she says. In Cuba, everyone has social security. It's one of the principles of the revolution. She says the state provides her with food and clothes, basic furniture. In Cuba, she knows that even the poor send their children to college, which isn't the case in many Latin American countries. Silva is proud of the socialist country built under Fidel. Asked if Cuba might change to capitalism, she says flatly, Cubans don't want that.
(Soundbite of horse hooves)
BEAUBIEN: As the island's transportation infrastructure crumbles, horse-drawn wagons serve as taxis just in front of Silva's house.
Cuba's economy is facing its greatest test since the fall of the Soviet Union. Its trade deficit has soared. The government has a liquidity crisis. The 47-year-old U.S. embargo still hampers trade with its closest neighbor. And adding to Cuba's problems, the island was hit last year by three hurricanes.
President RAUL CASTRO (Cuba): (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: President Raul Castro in a recent speech here in Holguin said: These have been difficult and arduous months from one end of the country to the other. He went on to say that Cuba doesn't have a surplus of anything.
Pres. CASTRO: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Anything except problems. In this speech, Raul said Cuba's woes won't be solved by shouting patriotic slogans or denouncing the United States. He called on Cubans to return to the land and revitalize the island's faltering farms.
According to Raul, half of Cuba's arable land is sitting idle or underutilized while food imports increasingly drain the public treasury. In an effort to revive agriculture, Raul launched a program that's given out more than a million and a half acres of fallow state-owned land to private farmers and small cooperatives.
(Soundbite of scraping)
BEAUBIEN: The economy has slowed so much that many of Cuba's main roads are almost empty. In the Camaguey province, rice farmer Roberto Barada Perez is using one lane of a two-lane highway to dry his crop. He received about 65 acres last year under Raul's land redistribution program and planted all of it in rice.
Mr. ROBERTO BARADA PEREZ: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: It's a dignified way to support my family, Barada says. Because, really, there aren't other ways to help my family financially.
Barada is only allowed to sell the rice to the government at a price set by the state, which he complains is too low. Despite this, he says he hopes to get one more plot in the coming months.
As president, Raul Castro has allowed Cubans to buy computers and cell phones and stay in tourist hotels. And he suggested that pay should be linked to performance.
Rafael Hernandez, the editor of the quarterly journal Temas in Havana, says Raul Castro is attempting to transform the Cuban state.
Mr. RAFAEL HERNANDEZ (Editor, Temas): Cuba is in the middle of a transition from a kind of socialism to a different kind of socialism.
BEAUBIEN: Hernandez predicts that that transition won't follow a Russian or a Chinese model, but a Cuban model.
Mr. HERNANDEZ: Cuban socialism is sick of hypercentralization, and everything is related to that. That is, to me, the monster to kill.
BEAUBIEN: Hernandez says Raul is attempting to decentralize the only communist state in the Americas by granting greater autonomy to individual government ministries.
Across Cuba, there are people desperate for U.S.-style capitalism to come rushing back in. But Hernandez says he doesn't think they're in the majority, and they certainly aren't in power.
Most Cubans want a socialist state, he says. They just want one that functions far better than the one they currently have.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News.
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