In Rare Study, Cubans Put Money Worries First
The New York Times
By Marc Lacey

MEXICO CITY — A rare study conducted surreptitiously in Cuba found that more than half of those interviewed considered their economic woes to be their chief concern while less than 10 percent listed lack of political freedom as the main problem facing the country.

“Almost every poll you ever see, even those in the U.S., goes to bread-and-butter issues,” said Alex Sutton, director of Latin American and Caribbean programs at the International Republican Institute, which conducted the study. “Everybody everywhere is interested in their purchasing power.”

The institute is a nonprofit democracy-building group affiliated with the Republican Party that strongly opposes Cuba’s Communist government.

The results showed deep anxiety about the state of the country, with 35 percent of respondents saying things were “so-so” and 47 percent saying they were going “badly” or “very badly.” As for the government’s ability to turn things around, Cubans were skeptical, with 70 percent of those interviewed saying they did not believe that the authorities would resolve the country’s biggest problem in the next few years.

The study, to be released on Thursday, was conducted from March 14 to April 12, after Raúl Castro officially took over the presidency.

Since taking office, Raúl Castro has rolled out a variety of changes, lifting longstanding restrictions on the sale of cellphones and consumer items, access to tourist hotels and renting cars, among other things. The survey did not specifically ask Cubans about those changes.

Conducting surveys in Cuba is difficult and the institute did not seek the required permission from the authorities.

For the study, Latin American interviewers talked to 587 Cuban adults face to face across all of Cuba’s provinces. A telephone survey was not considered because large segments of the population do not have phones.

In 2006, the Gallup Organization conducted a survey in Havana and Santiago that found that more Cubans approved of Fidel Castro’s leadership than disapproved of it. The previous Gallup poll, in 1994, found that Cubans considered the revolution that brought Mr. Castro to power more of a success than a failure. Most Cubans in that survey also attributed their economic woes to the American trade embargo.

The International Republican Institute conducted its first Cuban study in October and plans regular interviews with a cross section of Cubans.

The study to be published Thursday found that young people were much more critical of Raúl Castro’s government than their parents and grandparents were. Nearly 70 percent of Cubans 18 to 29 said that if given a chance they would support a democratic system with multiparty elections, freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Among those 60 or older, support for such a change dropped to 44 percent.

Cubans of all ages supported an economic overhaul. More than 80 percent said they backed a market economic system that included the right to own property and run businesses.

Cuba’s problems were ranked this way: low salaries and high cost of living, double currency standard, lack of political freedoms, embargo and isolation, food scarcity, lack of medicines, poor transportation infrastructure and lack of housing or dilapidated conditions.

Given an opportunity to rate Raúl Castro from zero to 10, with zero being “very bad” and 10 being “very good,” the average of the Cubans’ responses was 5.55.

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