Saturday, April 30, 2011

Churches Help Cubans through Economic Transition

Evangelical church in Havana, Cuba.

The aging revolutionaries who have controlled Cuba for the past 50 years, haven't trained younger leaders to take their place.

That became evident at the long-awaited Communist Party Congress in April, when 79-year old Raul Castro was named the party's first secretary, and the number two spot went to an 80-year-old.

A feeble Fidel Castro, 84, made a surprise appearance. This was the first time in the Congress' history that he wasn't included on the powerful central committee.

That post went to his brother Raul, who admitted that Cuba has a succession problem. Raul Castro made a surprise recommendation of term limits for politicians -- including himself.

"We have reached the conclusion that it is recommendable to limit to a maximum of two five-year consecutive terms all the state's fundamental political positions," he said.

But that's not the only problem that keeps Cuba among the poorest nations in the Americas.

The government employs eight out of every 10 Cuban workers, a dead weight the economy can't sustain.

Raul Castro knows the country has to shed its Communist baggage, but as the new party leader he made a pledge to the faithful.

"To defend, preserve, and continue to perfect socialism and never allow the return of the capitalist regime," he said.

"Cuba right now is in a state of great confusion between shifting from purely a Socialist Communist system to a quasi market system," said Teo Babun, leader of the Miami-based charity Echo Cuba.

"Not quite at the acceleration of China or Vietnam, and not knowing where they're going," Babun said. "But being very cautious not to let this whole thing get out of hand for them."

Last year, Raul promised to reduce the bloated government payroll by laying off half a million workers.

While the the massive government layoffs haven't happened, the uncertainty has left many Cubans on edge. Now, many evangelical churches are helping their members create their own jobs.

"What the more aggressive churches have been doing is allowing the individual members of the churches to partner with organizations outside of Cuba that will help them start small businesses and therefore become tithers, for example, to the churches and supporters of the social programs that the churches are running," Babun explained.

With the help of Echo Cuba, Cuban evangelicals have started more than 1,200 small businesses.

"We select Cubans within the churches that are entrepreneurial. We help them write a business plan, guide them in the process of how to start their business, and then bring them a 'business in a box,'" Babun said.

"Everything that they need to start a business is basically purchased outside of Cuba and brought to Cuba so that they can get things going," he said.

But the budding entrepreneurs first have to forget what the Communist government has taught them for the past 50 years.

"The Socialist model of Cuba, starting in 1959, [has] one head, everything coming down," Babun continued.

"They really don't understand how to meet together, how to create collaboration with each other, how to make decisions in a meeting format," he said. "All those things that we take for granted, they don't understand it."

If churches are to help members survive Cuba's economic crisis, they must learn the basics of a free market economy.

Once Christians start their own businesses, Babun said other freedoms may follow.

"The freedom to be able to operate not only in the marketplace, but also in their place of worship," he said. "Freely, without any kind of restriction from any form of government."

Stan Jeter

Source: CBN News

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