Even Fidel Castro, who stepped down to undergo intestinal surgery and suffered complications, recently quipped "the Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore."
The now semi-retired 84-year-old leader of the Cuban revolution emerged from seclusion in July and made the comment over lunch with U.S. journalist Jeffry Goldberg.
"For four years, Raul Castro has been preparing Cuba's population and party cadres, repeatedly stating Cuba can no longer finance the omnipresent state-model of the past," said Bert Hoffman, a Latin American expert at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies
"If the state scales down, opening private employment opportunities becomes inevitable. Finally, this appears to be getting under way," he said.
Cuba currently has only 591,000 people working in the private sector, a number that includes mostly small farmers and agriculture workers as well as 143,000 self-employed, according to the National Statistics Office.
Castro has fostered discussion in the media and grass-roots meetings on what ails the socialist economy, and made mostly minor changes aimed at boosting productivity by putting more incentives in the system.
The most important reforms up to now were in agriculture, where state lands have been leased to 100,000 new farmers and the state's monopoly on the sale of farm supplies and produce have been loosened.
Many analysts say Raul Castro's efforts are similar to those undertaken by Chinese and Vietnamese Communists at the start of their reforms decades ago.