Cubans appear to be growing more optimistic about ruler Raul Castro’s economic reforms and large majorities favor direct elections of their president but say the government is repressive, according to a poll made public Thursday.
The survey by the International Republican Institute also showed that the number of Cubans working off the books for themselves grew by 9 percent compared to the IRI poll last year, while the number of those with licenses grew by only 3 percent.
The poll taken Jan. 20-Feb. 20 was the eighth Cuba survey since 2007 by IRI, a Washington nonprofit that advocates freedom around the world. Like its counterpart, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, it is officially nonpartisan.
Asked how they believe their family would fare economically in the next 12 months, 45 percent said it would improve and 35 said it would stay the same. Answering a similar question in 2012, 27 percent expected improvements and 58 percent expected no change.
Yet 64 percent could not cite any reform that had benefitted them personally and most reported little improvement in the previous 12 month period — the fifth year of Castro’s rule and reforms.
In this year’s survey, 66 percent said their family’s economy situation remained the same over the past year and 23 percent said it improved. In 2012, 58 percent said it had remained the same and 23 percent said improved.
IRI officials said the optimism for the next 12 months might have been sparked by the government’s easing of restrictions on foreign travel in January, without question the most popular and visible of Castro’s reforms.
On the political front, 69 percent of those interviewed said “no” to a question on whether it has become easier in the past two years to speak out against the government without receiving some sort of official retribution.
Twenty percent did not answer a question on whether the government sometimes represses its own people, but 53 percent said the Cuban government was repressive and 64 percent said they favored direct balloting for president.
The poll also suggested that Castro’s cuts in government payrolls are driving Cubans more into off-the-books jobs than into the 170 or so types of self-employed economic activities that the government permits, such as baker and barber.
The number of people who reported this year that they were licensed to work on their own grew by 3 percent since the 2012 survey, while the number who reported they were working for themselves but unlicensed rose by 9 percent.
Only 4 percent of the respondents said they had access to the Internet and e-mail, and the number of Cubans who said they had access to cell phones was 19 percent — same as in the 2012 survey.
Complaints about their quality of life tended to come more from black Cubans, women and the 80 percent of respondents who said they did not receive remittances from abroad. Those who do receive remittances tended to be more positive about Castro’s reforms.
What’s more, those who reported that they had not benefitted directly from Castro’s reforms tended to be more from the eastern and central part of the island than from Havana and other parts of western Cuba, according to the IRI survey.
IRI said its poll takers interviewed 688 Cubans aged 18 and older in 14 provinces. IRI officials say they work “discreetly” in Cuba because the communist government bans independent surveys, but decline further details.