Cuba Tries to Constrict the Summit of the Americas / Ivan Garcia

ATLAPA1-_mn-620x330Ivan Garcia, 4 April 2015 — If the 56 years of the olive-green autocracy are analyzed using statistics or tangible results that demonstrate progress, the result can be bewildering.

An inventory of the Cuban economy in the last 25 years, and a serious analysis of comparative statistics, will confirm the thesis that the olive green regime has sold us smoke.

If we believe the official data on the growth of GDP, such as those obtained for three consecutive years (11.8% in 2005, 12.5% in 2006 and 7.3% in 2008), the economic indices of Cuba would be at the level of the Asian tigers (South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan). The supposed achievements can only be seen in the daily newspaper Granma and in EcuRed, the Cuban version of Wikipedia, where we retrieved those figures.

Real life tells us the opposite. Allotted apartments without a coherent urban layout, with ugly buildings and low-quality construction. A highway under construction for 40 years with no end in sight. And a capital that is the perfect portrait of the destruction of a city.

The three achievements of Fidel Castro—idealized education, universal healthcare, and sports—are in outright decline.

“In twenty-first century Cuba we can’t even produce a toothbrush. We have to spend more than two billion dollars on imported food, despite having wide swaths of uncultivated acreage,” says Anselmo, an elderly cigar-roller.

But if the economy is a madhouse, with arbitrary constraints by the state and a mafia-like cartel which it uses to its advantage, in political matters the Castro brothers have a doctorate.

Never in the history of the world has a small, poor nation, with an army equipped with castoffs and antiques, conquered another country. In their time, England, Belgium, Holland and Portugal had powerful fleets and solid economies.

Cuba has neither. But it has been able to conquer Venezuela without firing a shot, despite the South American country having three times the population of the Island, and large oil reserves.

Ideologically speaking, the government of Nicolas Maduro is umbilically attached to the Palace of the Revolution in Havana. The Cuban regime has always been more political than economic.

It has managed to weave a web of alliances with Third World nations selling a narrative of sovereignty, providing medical services, and advising in the fields of science, sports, technology, and military.

According to Luis Manuel, a graduate of a Soviet university, “The rules of the economics game that our leaders learned in the USSR were outdated and never worked. But the legacy of the KGB and of spymaster Marcus Wolf’s STASI, served to prop up the ineffective economy. In particular the special services, experts in manipulation, in colonizing democratic spaces, and in the art of repression.”

The structures of the State—with a lockstep Parliament that has never voted against a proposal from the executive, with no free elections for president, with one party, and without independent courts or unions—are designed to prevent discord.

According to Tamara, a retired teacher, “that civil society they are now talking about in Cuba is pure gibberish.” And she’s right.

All the intellectuals, religious, and academics are integrated into associations controlled by the State. And they have become a useful tool that the government uses as a propaganda vector or in solidarity with its allies, as is the case now in Venezuela.

After receiving government approval, they launch initiatives, sign public statements, or organize gatherings and demonstrations in “support for the revolution.” Their offices belong to the state and their magazines, conferences, and meetings depend on the public purse.

The only two sectors with their own voice in Cuba, although having little impact in the country, are the opposition (la disidencia) and independent journalism. To be fashionable, Raul Castro co-opted the term “civil society” and gave the green light to dozens of “independent” organizations, which they had already enlisted, to attend the social forum in advance of the Seventh Summit of the Americas, on April 10 and 11 in Panama.

With financial support from the state and from other countries, which paid for airfare and lodging, a section of “civil society” controlled by the Castros will meet in the Panamanian capital.

It will be an interesting battle. Across the street, paid for by private foundations and the U.S. government, according to the roadmap implemented by Obama on December 17, will be a meeting, also including opposition members, who seek to publicize the repression and lack of political freedoms for more than five decades in Cuba.

It’s always healthy when conflicting sides feel free to chat without insulting each other. It is a sign of culture, tolerance, and modernity. But these debates should be held in Havana, not in another nation.

When Cubans of whatever political inclination, divided by the discourse of fear so well managed by the Castros, decide to listen to their adversaries, we can then civilly negotiate the future of our country.

If that “civil society” sponsored by the regime, resorts to insults and deaf ears against the dissidents who attend in Panama, it would signal that the Cuban government will remain committed to canceling out opposition and to mortgaging the future.

Cubans, thinking as they think and living where they live, must learn to live in harmony. And stop, once and for all, being strangers in our own land.

Iván García

Photo: Atlapa Convention Center, home of the Summit of the Americas VII, April 10 and 11, 2015, is located in the heart of Panama City, just five minutes from the airport. There are 19 soundproof meeting rooms, with multiple entries, movable walls, and interchangeable furniture. Panama’s artistic soul is present in the decoration: colorful beads made by the Guaymi Indians; drums, ritual flutes, original blouses of the Kuna Indians, and sculptures, braided jute and baskets from the mountainous regions, contribute to beautify the interiors of the main convention center in Panama. Additional press lounges, offices for organizers of events and offset copy center. An area of tourist services provides support for meetings, receptions, and registration of delegates, among other tasks. The Plaza de las Banderas, decorated with a lush tropical vegetation, can be used for exhibitions, folk performances, and other outdoor events (TQ).