Dimas Castellano, 5 December 2016 — The majority of analysts looking at the change of direction which may be experienced in the relations between Cuba and the United States, following the 8th of November elections, have concerned themselves solely with the policies on Cuba to be pursued by the new occupant of the White House, ignoring the fact that these are bilateral relations.
Their forecasts range from those who consider that Donald Trump will fulfill his electoral promise of going back on Barack Obama’s policy, up to the possibility of an improved understanding with the Cuban authorities. In nearly all cases, the emphasis is on what the new President will do, as if the Cuban side of things had nothing to do with what could happen from next 20th of January onwards.
A retrospective analysis of relations between the two administrations indicates otherwise. Taking into account the fact that the Cuban people don’t have human or political rights to influence that process, and that the weakness of the emerging civil society makes it difficult for it to take the role of an opposition, the analysis has to limit itself to intergovernmental relations.
Appealing to electoral populism is one thing, and leading the greatest power in the world is another. Setting back the development in re-establishing relations during Barack Obama’s presidency will be extremely difficult. The institutionalisation of public powers, the existence of diverse sectors with interests in our island, and regional interests in the face of incursions by other powers, will hinder it. In those conditions the President-elect could limit of eliminate some things, but he could not nullify everything, because it would affect his country’s own interests.
The re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States – the most important political act since the 1959 revolution – responds to the interests of both nations. The supposition that Trump constitutes a threat to the relations which the Barack Obama administration succeeeded in moving forward is one side of the coin. The brake applied by the Cuban government to the advances is the other side.
The obstinate obsession with dragging everything into public ownership, centralised production, and the absence of liberties for Cubans, are among the principal causes of the crisis in which Cuba finds itself. The Obama administration’s policy offered an opportunity for change, which was missed by the Cuban side, to remove internal obstacles in the country. Therefore, along with the potential risk represented by the Trump administration, there is the real negative in the form of a Cuban government lacking the necessary political will to face up to the present situation. An insoluble contradiction consisting of changing and at the same preserving power.
Fidel Castro’s thesis that “Cuba already changed, in 1959,” produced a more pragmatic vision than General Raúl Castro’s one of “changing some things to hold onto power.” The measures implemented to that end over eight years have not brought about the desired result. Instead, they have revealed the unviability of the model and the depth of the crisis, in the face of which the only way forward is implementing major reforms.
If the series of measures enacted by the White House – including the Presidential Decision Directive of last October aimed at rendering irreversible the advances achieved – have not produced a better outcome, it is because they were not accompanied by the necessary measures on the Cuban side to free up production and restore civil liberties. For that reason, the solution for Cuba lies in its own authorities, as opposed to what might happen during the Trump administration. To tackle these changes now, albeit very late, would neutralise any intention to set things back on the part of the new occupant of the White House.
Bearing in mind that the suspension of the embargo is the prerogative of the United States Congress, what is needed now, after the “physical disappearance” of Fidel Castro, is to get on with a comprehensive structural reform, which should have been started a long time ago, commencing with, at least, what Vietnam did, with a crippled economy, in a country which had had, in ten years of war, three times the number of bombs dropped on it than were used in the Second World War, where 15% of the population perished or were injured in the struggle, with 60% of the villages in the south destroyed and which, after the war ended, confronted the economic blockade and frontier attacks, and, instead of ideological campaigns, launched reforms.
The Granma daily of November 4th, in a report entitled The Vietnam of the Future, says that the province of Binh Duong, previously mostly agricultural, is now predominantly industrial. This province has more than 2,700 projects funded by foreign investment; its GDP is, since 2010, increasing at an annual 14%; it boasts 28 industrial parks with factories constructed by companies from more than 30 countries; in the last two years it has launched nearly 370 new investment projects, and, between 1996 and now it has created more than 90,000 jobs.
The same paper, on 11th November, published The Miracle of the Vietnam Economy, where it reported that the World Bank had placed Vietnam among the most successful countries, which had, in 30 years, tripled per capita income, between 2003 and the present had reduced the level of those in poverty from 59% to 12%, and, in 20 years, had lifted more than 25 million people from destitution. It added that in 1986 the average Vietnamese income was between $15 and $20 a month and now varies between $200 and $300, and that in 1986 they eliminated centralised control and implemented a market economy, with a socialist orientation.
With these results, the United States suspended the embargo which lasted 30 years. In 2008 they directed their efforts to exiting the list of developing countries, in 2010 established the objective of entering the group of countries with medium income, in 2014 they found themselves among the 28 highest exporters in the world, and in 2016, they approved measures to convert themselves into an industrialised nation.
In that same time period, Cuba anchored itself in the past, with a policy of “Rectifying errors and negative tendencies,” and managed to get the United Nations to condemn the embargo for a period of 25 years. Now, we have to lay out millions of dollars on importing food which we could produce in Cuba, and, after teaching the Vietnamese how to grow coffee, we have to buy the beans.
Havana, 28th November, 2016.
Translated by GH