Chavez’s Defeat and the Economic Reforms in Cuba / Iván García

Maybe he was surprised that Chavez was defeated in the popular vote. In Havana alarms went off. The unstoppable South American Santa Claus is a very valuable asset for the Cuban political strategy. He is its strong man.

He’s also fundamental for supporting an economy that is foundering. The frenzied Chavez offers the oil the island needs, to avoid slipping into and age of darkness, at rock bottom prices.

That’s why the leaders pamper him despite his drivel and verbal incontinence. Maybe his political mentor, Fidel Castro, is upset because of the Caracas autocrat’s mania to hold elections every time he feels like it.

It’s a known fact that Castro does not believe in that damaging vice called democracy, nor in holding referendums. Even less in holding a referendum just to lose it. Tough guys like the mythic bearded one only hold elections if they know for certain that they’ll win more than 95% of the votes.

That strange habit of the swarthy caudillo’s trying his luck at the ballot, keeps the island’s rulers on their toes. It’s a known fact that the fall of the Soviet Union threw Cuba suddenly and without warning into a crisis which has lasted for 21 years, and which in its darkest days took us close to the stone age.

Castro knows that the Cuban government can’t allow another violent worsening of conditions, with food shortages and 14-hour blackouts. That could be the end of his revolution. Already, advisers are looking through their files for contingency plans, just in case Chavez loses power in 2013.

To stop being the beggars of the Caribbean, living off the resources of another country, it’s urgent to get the weakened internal economy rolling again. This is the time for the fans of the Chinese Model. They’re probably on edge.

They think this is the time to speed up the reforms and economic openings. It’s a task for titans. And there’s little time. The red commander could lose his post in three years. There aren’t many options at hand. The most feasible is to bet on the market economy but keep a tight hand on the reins of power, like China does.

Playing two cards. Capitalism on the outside and socialism on the inside. Of course, that needs improved relations with America, and Obama lifting the embargo.

The wise make their estimates. Maquiladoras — cross-border factories — would come by the dozen, and the hundreds of thousands on unemployed would work for a pittance. Like the Asian Giant, Cuba offers a cheap, docile workforce, with a union that will not encourage them to protest or strike.

In that economic model, with the worst of wild capitalism, fans may forget a little detail. Cuba is not China. It doesn’t have an internal market of a billion people and Cubans do not work like slaves.

Whatever it is, something must be done to take the local economy out of its slump. Chavez is no guarantor. Maybe it’s time to speed up the changes. It would also reveal if the policies of the Castro brothers are aligned or not.

If stagnation continues, it would risk their continuity in power. And that is a powerful incentive to speed up the reforms.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer