Cuba and Ecuador are very different countries, but they share a common history and are politically linked by principles of the progressive Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) bloc. They are also engaged in quite distinct processes of political economic reform. In brief, Cuba is cautiously expanding its commercialisation while Ecuador is expanding its public sector. But there is more to it than that.

What then might an educated observer make of the state of economic reform in these countries? Impressions can be influential but also misleading. The western mind, in particular, is accustomed to forming opinions very rapidly, either from broad preconceptions or from anecdotal evidence. For example, economic liberal critics (e.g. Frank 2014) characterise the ‘command economy’ of Cuba as having failed, and suggest a necessary reversion to market principles. This misses the logic of the ‘updating’ process, spoken of by Cuban economists and planners (Rodríguez 2015). Similarly, a number of leftists assert that Correa’s project represents a modernising of capitalism, extractivist and elitist, pointing to the failure to expropriate monopolies (e.g. Petras 2012). They miss real social and economic advances.

This article makes a comparative study of economic reform in Cuba and Ecuador, drawing on those above-mentioned considerations. After setting the context of the shared and distinct histories of both countries, it characterises the reform processes, arguing that they can only be properly understood as deeply historically contingent. Some examples are given of misconceptions that arise, either from overly theoretical preconceptions or from over-emphasis on particular critical features found in popular debate. These misconceptions reinforce, I suggest, the need for more careful historical examination.

2016 From Havana to Quito: Understanding economic reform in Cuba and Ecuador PDF

Journal of Australian Political Economy, 76