Cuba has effectively admitted that its decades of communism hasn’t worked because it will allow foreign investors into its wholesale and retail trade for the first time in 60 years.
The move is a major shift for the island’s communist government, and overturns a Fidel Castro policy of nationalising retail.
But Cuba, facing its most severe economic crisis since the Fifties, with rising prices and public discontent, believes its new policy will tackle shortages of basic goods, like food and medicine - but stops short of fully opening trade.
Government officials said that foreign investors will be able to wholly or partially own Cuba-based wholesalers.
But retail will not be open to international investors without scrutiny, as “a state market has to prevail” foreign trade minister Betsy Díaz Velázquez said.
Economy minister Alejandro Gil said the move will allow for the “expansion and diversification of supply to the population and contribute to the recovery of domestic industry”.
In 1969, Fidel Castro nationalised Cuba’s private wholesale and retail industry. The new foreign investment bill, however, recognises that the country’s centralised government cannot resolve its essential goods shortage without investment from overseas.
Meanwhile, Cuba will send nearly 500 doctors to the Calabria region of southern Italy, part of a broader programme that sends surplus medics from the communist-run island to countries in need.
State-run media outlet Cubadebate said Calabria had been suffering a shortage of doctors since 2010, part of a countrywide healthcare crisis, and had been unable to fill the need any other way.
Around 40 countries across five continents, including Italy, received Cuban medics during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the island – with a population of 11 million - has impacted worldwide in medical diplomacy.
Since its 1959 leftist revolution, Cuba has dispatched its ‘army of white coats’ to disaster sites and disease outbreaks around the world in the name of solidarity. In the last decade, they have fought cholera in Haiti and Ebola in West Africa.
Cuba has exported doctors on more routine missions in exchange for cash or goods in recent decades, making it a top source of hard currency. The United States has criticised the programme, saying labour conditions are exploitative, a charge Cuba denies.