Ivan Garcia, Havana, 31 January 2015 — After secret negotiations with his lifelong enemy lasting a year and a half, General Raul Castro seems to have come out ahead early in the game. But Barack Obama has been shrewd.
He is playing for the long-term and has a different perspective and strategy. The United States thinks and acts in accordance with its geopolitical interests, always with its national security in mind.
Cuba is not as attractive a market as portrayed by some analysts. On the contrary. Its potential consumers have no money in their pockets and the government’s coffers are empty, not a promising scenario for big business.
Extending credit to a regime that is broke is always a risky proposition. There is nothing more cowardly than money, especially if there is a risk you won’t get it back.
Even worse, obstacles remain. There is the U.S. economic embargo as well as Castro’s embargo on his citizens. Ludicrous regulations are imposed on businessmen who, in addition to having to deal with absurd exchange rates and laws dictated by the regime, cannot contract to hire their employees directly.
The door remains open for telecommunications and private employment but communications is not among the monopolized sectors up for sale in Cuba.
It is yet to be seen if Castro II will allow a private farmer from Camajuani to directly seek credit from an Illinois bank in order to buy fertilizer, seeds or a tractor.
The embargo could be lifted in a matter of months if the general initiated political changes and promised to respect human rights, but there have been no signs suggesting political reform.
On the contrary. The government went into a panic on December 30 over nothing more than an event by a performance artist and used the weapon it knows best: repression. They could have been creative; they could have simply unplugged the microphone Tania Bruguera was using to communicate with her supporters.
The dictatorship is not about to take a turn towards democracy. No way, no how, if for no other reason than its survival.
Too often, American politicians are guilty of naiveté. The history of Cuba since 1959 shows that the Castro brothers have three sworn enemies.
One is external — the United States — and serves as fuel to preserve domestic unity and the politics of the barricade.
Another is internal — the community of dissidents — which, no matter the particular type (political, journalistic, intellectual or artistic), is always treated as a threat, targeted by the special services, whose main mission is to divide, discredit and destroy them.
The third enemy is the private sector, whose small businessmen are seen as criminals. Just check Cuba’s statutes and read the second paragraph of the legal guidelines promulgated by Raul Castro.
It is stated quite clearly: Cubans living on the island will not be allowed to accumulate capital. The statutes covering self-employment are designed as a firewall to prevent citizens from acquiring wealth.
The government knows jobs and professions are uncertain. People may earn money to feed and clothe themselves, have a beer and maybe spend a weekend in a hotel, but nothing else.
The label “small businessman,” which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce so generously bestows on someone like Pablo— a guy who sells bread with mayonnaise and churros filled with guava in the south Havana neighborhood of Mantilla — is not inappropriate according to the organization’s bylaws.
There are many examples in the United States of tiny personal businesses which go on to become major corporations. Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook almost as a game while goofing off with his fellow university students.
One morning Bill Gates started a computer company in the garage of his house. LeBron James, a boy who grew up without a father and with n mother living in poverty, is now a formidable basketball player earning millions of dollars a year.
Such is the mindset of businessmen and politicians in the United States, where people are born into a society that nurtures creativity, enterprise and individuality.
But on the Island of the Castros, society is set up to thwart individual talent, competency and small businesses.
These are the laws of communism. China and Vietnam were more original, but they are not in the western orbit and their maritime borders do not hug the coast of the most powerful and affluent nation on earth.
Deng Xiaoping’s maxim that making money is not a sin is not part of Raul Castro’s strategy. The Cuban regime only allows those enterprises run by its most trusted associates, mostly men from the military, to prosper.
The key to the regime’s system is power. Did Obama therefore make a mistake by changing the rules of the game? No, it was a good move based on his own nation’s interests and its ideas about how a society should operate.
But on this side of the Florida Straits, the mindset and the maneuvering are very different. One might think that, without an enemy on which to blame the disastrous economy, Raul Castro would open the gates.
Until December 17, 2014, the regime operated best in confrontational situations, but with the ball now in their court, they are feeling uncomfortable.
They will accept new reforms and changes in the economic rules as long as these do not threaten their hold on power.
Politics will continue to be completely off-limits and for the foreseeable future they will continue to levy tariffs on the self-employed through a barrage of excessive regulations and high taxes.
They will do this for one simple reason: This is who they are.
Photo: General Raul Castro, from Lawrence Journal-World.
31 January 2015