Ivan Garcia, 28 March 2015 – It feels like a lot of time has gone by since noon on December 17 when Rogelio Horta’s family sat dumbfounded in front of the television listening to Raul Castro announce that Cuba and the United States would reestablish diplomatic relations.
Everything seemed perfect. There would be improved telecommunications and internet. Self-employed workers and cooperatives would have access to credit. If differences between the two countries were patched up, the economic situation would improve. But as time passed, people’s expectations changed,” admits Rogelio, the owner of a cafe southwest of Havana.
Three months after the newsflash, the feeling among average Cubans is that the new developments will not significantly change their lives.
The government of Raul Castro has not formulated a policy that would allow the private or cooperative economic sectors to sign business or financial deals with U.S. institutions.
“It’s all just propaganda. Americans tour cooperative farms and sugar plantations, celebrities film TV shows in Havana and take selfies with Fidel Castro’s children. But there are no actual results. Direct telephone calls are the same as before,” notes Armando, a scriptwriter for radio soap operas.
People have been edging from optimism to anger. Such is the mood of Josuan, an independent taxi driver who was excited by Obama’s words. Perhaps a bit too much.
On Christmas Eve, three months ago, Josuan envisioned a dream-like future: “I thought the Cuban economy would open up and self-employed workers would have more opportunities. The topic of conversation was how we could take advantage of the new situation. But the government has brought us down from the clouds. Now with the soap opera that is Venezuela, the press doesn’t even mention the third round of (US-Cuban) talks being held in Havana,” he says.
The official media barely even noticed Roberta Jacobson’s second visit to Cuba. Nor were a swarm of foreign journalists seen in the streets of Havana and nothing has emerged on the meetings between Jacobsen and her counterpart, Josefina Vidal.
The media hoopla has morphed into a mysterious silence, which is probably the perfect setting to achieve agreements that will satisfy both parties.
For better informed Cubans such as Ortelio, a former government official, the concern is that any shift in U.S. foreign policy could derail the process.
“Negotiating with the Castros is very complex,” says Ortelio. “They’re like spoiled children. Any action by American policy makers that displeases them could endanger the negotiations. The official line is that Obama’s sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials will not interfere with the process. I hope that’s the case and that our government shows intelligence and responsibility. For twenty-five years Cuba has experienced an ongoing economic crisis with no end in sight. If we don’t develop our economy and improve our standard of living, the exodus from the island will continue. There is a limit to how much people will tolerate.”
Danilo, an architect, believes it is all stage-managed. “The speeches by Cuban officials are meant to please the Latin American and European left,” he believes. “Raul Castro will not miss this chance with the U.S. to pass by, but he needs Venezuelan oil. If Venezuela were to steal the show at the next Summit of the Americas, it would be a good smokescreen to continue negotiating behind the scenes. Maduro has an expiration date. He’ll lose power before too long. He is a useful idiot.”
While strategies are drawn up in the corridors of power in Havana and Washington, the initial enthusiasm among Cubans over the surprising diplomatic shift has been eclipsed.
Since December 17 owners of private lodgings and restaurants, taxi drivers, the poor, prostitutes and hustlers have benefitted from the presence of affluent Americans with fat wallets, especially in the oldest part of the city, which is the section most visited by tourists.
Havana residents hope that within two years broadband internet and U.S. dollars will extend across every neighborhood in the capital. Maduro is not welcome here. Long speeches and a litany of grievances are all he has to offer. People have been listening to this narrative more many years now. And they are tired of it.
Photo: In spite of American tourists, U.S. flags and movie stars turning up in Havana, Cubans’ enthusiasm for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States has been waning. Source: Prensa de Nicaragua.