Raul Castro, On the Fence / Iván García

General Raul Castro is trying to give shape to the land he’s promised. El Dorado, the “Cuban socialist paradise,” requires time and patience. And confidence in the old leaders who have ruled the destinies of Cubans for 51 years.

The Castros want to dance the old-style danzón. No reggaeton. Farewell to emergencies and haste. The changes will be controlled and jealously scrutinized under a magnifying glass.

In the latest speech of the Cuban president, as is usual on the island, there are hidden meanings. Subtle codes. Political carpentry. But then you dismantle all the artifice of the partisan jargon, the veiled threats to dissenters and the tiresome slogans, and you note that in the words of Castro II there are two speeches.

One holds everything we read in the press. The other, what isn’t said. Up to a point I understand the Creole mandarins. It’s hard for them to speak frankly about the failure of the economic model and the innumerable disasters committed by Fidel Castro in the administration of the country.

Then he gilds the pill. But when you deconstruct the words of Raul you come to a logical conclusion: the transformations promised to us by the government are the same neo-liberal shock therapy applied by any capitalist country when it enters an economic crisis.

And worse. In capitalist societies there are pockets of unemployment. The island’s government has promised to be more severe with those who hang around in the streets. It’s rumored they will only be paid 60% of their salary for one month. Then, they can get by however they can.

To offset the rising tide of the unemployed, which will exceed a million people, they will expand the rules for self-employment.

But this remains to be seen. Look, in moments when the rope tightens around their neck, the Castro’s often give way. Then, when they get some oxygen, they tighten the rope and return to paralysis, the preferred rhythm of the Havana regime.

On the street, there are more doubts than hopes. It’s good to work for yourself, make money and improve the quality of your life. But it’s not easy. If the government doesn’t lower the taxes, call off the inspectors, and ease up on the constant obstacles in the way of private work, Raul’s announcement won’t be effective.

To establish a private cafe or restaurant in Cuba isn’t always possible. First: where do you get the money. Second: on the island the banks don’t offer credit nor lend money. Third: with regards to getting money, people wonder if the government won’t continue to look askance at it.

Because to have a business and prosper is something that doesn’t appeal to the Castro brothers. For the simple reason that every person that stops living off the State’s tit and manages to become independent, will always constitute a threat to the regime.

Money engenders power, influence and the desire to change the rules of the fame. The Castros know this. So they have always been afraid of private employment. Their interest is that those who don’t work for the State may look for a few pesos, but only enough to eat and little else.

The Castro brothers don’t want any new rich. And the ordinary people are aware of the danger of prospering. They know that hundreds of the paladares (private restaurants) were closed and that people were even imprisoned, accused of “illicit enrichment.”

When self-employment surged in 1994, the majority of those who accomplished it had family or friends abroad.

To establish a decent restaurant that will give a return on the investment requires no less than $8,000 dollars. Do the math. Buying the utensils, stoves, refrigerators, food and paying two or three employees. If, as Castro II said, one can hire workers, then it follows that one could establish small or medium-sized businesses. What worries a certain segment of the population is whether there will be a hook at the end of the line, as has happened at other times.

In any event, the good news from Raul’s speech was the reference to self-employment. The negatives were the threats to the opposition. His message was clear. If you believe the government will compromise on political questions, you’re mistaken. The jails will remain open and the laws allow the imprisonment of a dissident or journalist for 20 years or more remain in effect in the Republic.

It remains to be seen if they were empty words and typical bravado to pacify the Taliban frightened of change. Otherwise, it has been demonstrated that closed system need prisoners as a currency of exchange for any situation that arises. Now the prisons may be emptied. Will they be filled again?

Iván García

Photo: AFP

August 8, 2010