Cuba (MNN) — As part of a radical overhaul of the federal budget, Cuba’s President Raul Castro reformed the economy, reduced the number of public employees, and legalized some private enterprise.
In doing that, the communist government also slashed one million jobs and took away the safety nets. Meanwhile, food prices and the cost of living soared even as wages (the average salary in Cuba is less than $20 a month) and government subsidies were cut.
At the same time, the Castro administration allowed 200 fields of self-employment, began elimination of the double currency system, and relaxed the travel embargoes. The most recent change came at the beginning of the year with a decree allowing citizens to sell and buy vehicles without official interference.
However, the reforms bit deep, and many people fell through the cracks between too much month and not enough food, says Joseph Richter with FARMS International. “A lot of these people are basically out on their own. They had some assistance for food that everybody is rationed with, but besides that, they had to find a way to make an income,” which provided a way for FARMS International to get involved in 2011.
Richter explains, “We’re basically helping with different farming projects at present. The government has allowed farmers to lease land in larger acreages, and they’re able to sell part of their produce on the private market.”
FARMS provided the seed money for a vegetable-growing project with seven families. Each of these families has a contract with the government. For a certain amount of produce, some they can sell privately, but with the surplus, they had other plans. “Some of it, though, was to help about 70 elderly citizens with a feeding program that is run privately to help these people that are on very fixed and minimal incomes.”
What started as a seed project grew into a dual harvest opportunity for Gospel growth, adds Richter. It provided time for ministry. “They also tithe back into their local church, which enables the church to do evangelism and outreach and help with supporting the pastors.”
In fact, the project is so successful that they’re branching out, says Richter. “One of the projects we are involved in right now is the purchase of a tractor which will be used by many of the project holders not only to plow fields, but also to transport fertilizers and the crops to market.” Word got out, funds were raised, and the tractor will be purchased next month, just in time for this year’s planting season.
As with all development, there are growing pains. Sometimes when countries open up, the assistance that pours in creates a dependence on outside help. That’s not their goal. Richter reveals that their idea is to work themselves out of a job. He’s asking you to pray with them in asking God to continue to cultivate the Church, “especially in Cuba, that the open doors continue, and that the Church really learns to be self-supporting.”
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