What the government did show reporters were the results of an earlier reform begun two years ago in which individuals were allowed to be self-employed in certain categories and even have a small number of employees. One example was that of 57-year-old Silvia Lopez Noda, who opened a new shop in March dedicated to selling the colorful clothing used in ceremonies for the Yoruba religion.
Lopez's storefront is freshly painted (a rarity here) with a modern retail layout. In the back three employees sit at 1950s-era Singer sewing machines making the sequined and satin dresses sold out front. Lopez told us she was selling roughly $100 worth of clothing per day. She pays the seamstress well above the average salary—roughly $2 a day, or between $40 and $60 a month. State workers make only $19 a month.
When all is said and done, after paying taxes, Lopez said she clears $130 to $172 a month.
That a store which uses 1950s-era Singer sewing machines is the shining star of a government-backed tour highlights just how far behind the country is economically speaking and how far it has to go.
Throughout the visit, government leaders who spoke with the press went through great pains to say Cuba is not turning its back on socialism. In a rare appearance, the former minister of planning who is now in charge of the reform process, Marino Murillo Jorge, told journalists the changes were being made because "we are constructing a sustainable socialist society," emphasis on the sustainable.
However, in a statement that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago, Murillo also told reporters during a news conference, "Life has shown us that the government cannot occupy all of the economy."