The Cold War Returns to Cuba / Iván García

Lining up in front of the US embassy in Havana. See note below.

Ivan Garcia, 3 October 2017 — “The worst thing after a hurricane is that the food is lost,” says high school teacher Liana, 37, after making the rounds of several farmer’s markets and stores in the old part of Havana.

“There are no eggs in the whole city, not even a package of hotdogs. More then 100 medications are missing from the pharmacies, and to top it off, Trump orders the closure of the embassy. Those of us who have plans to emigrate to the United States, we see Cuba as a mousetrap,” she says, summarizing her frustrations.

It seems that a lot of time has passed since that historic afternoon of 17 December 2014, when both nations emerged from the trenches they dug during the Cold War.

At supersonic speed, people went from the greatest optimism to the deepest indifference. The Castro autocracy, with its pathological fear of authentic reforms that would favor the people, did not undertake structural changes in the economy, nor did they accept Washington’s gifts to private entrepreneurs.

The military junta that rules Cuba did not disconnect the chip of confrontation and was convinced that Barack Obama’s strategy was to annihilate with white gloves the ineffective communist system.

The White House’s new strategy had more friends than enemies. Although a segment of Cuban exile and local dissidence considered that Obama gave much in exchange for nothing. That on the island a dictatorship still prevailed and the repression against those who think differently was increased.

“Cuba does not have to change, Cuba has already changed with Fidel Castro’s Revolution in 1959,” said Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. Raul Castro’s game was to buy time and accept from the United States only those businesses that favored the capitalist corporations of the State. Zero deals with Google, “because they affect our digital sovereignty.”

Private workers can not be allowed to receive Yankee credits, because if they get rich, they can endanger the state of affairs. Authorize ferries? No way, because then Cubans living in the United States would enter Cuba with more than 200 pounds of stuff and the “hard currency collection stores” (as they are officially named), with prices at the level of Qatar, wouldn’t be able to sell so much as a single screw.

The regime only accepts cash. The strategy is to spend dollars on the island and benefit the olive-green (military) business network that runs all the businesses that generate hard currency.

If Raul Castro had been reasonable and taken advantage of the opportunities offered by Obama, the electoral victory of Trump would not have caught him with his pants down. He misplayed his cards. He thought he would continue floating in the cloud of the gatopardismo* with the imminent triumph of Hillary Clinton.

But Trump, the unpredictable New York tycoon, surprised both Tyrians and Trojans. And now, the regime of Castro II is forced to play on the defensive. With nothing to grab on to.

Russia, is no longer the Soviet Union. China is communist only in theory: in practice it wants business in exchange for money. Venezuela is on fire. And in America First by Donald Trump, Cuba does not offer profitability.

Trump, a leader who uses Twitter as a hunting rifle, a priori is winning the game against Castro. And, incidentally,he kills two birds with one stone.

He is pleased with the conservative wing of the Cuban exile and puts a stop to the immigration blackmail of his late brother, who in 1994 forced Bill Clinton to sign an agreement with Cuba for 20,000 annual visas in exchange for curbing the illegal exodus of the rafters.

The Cuban people, as always, are the losers. It is true that it is a sovereign decision of the United States to protect its officials. But the plot of “Ear-gate” sounds like a lousy Cold War espionage movie.

There are too many unanswered questions. Aurelio, 28, who was hoping to emigrate to Miami under the family reunification agreement, feels that the Trump government has betrayed him.

“We Cubans are alone. I really did not imagine that Marco Rubio and the Cuban-American members of congress were going to forsake those who were legally immigrating. An agreement is an agreement. I hope Trump will reconsider, “says Aurelio.

I doubt it. Because Trump sees that Clinton agreement, like Obama’s legacy, as a bad agreement. The US president believes he can make a better deal.

Cubans on the Island are hostages of a military autocracy that will not unleash the country’s internal productive forces, puts the brakes on private work on a large scale and transforms citizens into zombies.

He is also a hostage of the most conservative wing of the Cuban exile, who from their seats in the Capitol, as a weapon of pressure to overthrow Castroism, utilize a set of prohibitions that affect Cubans on the island who must drink their coffee without milk, while six decades of history has verified that these pressures have not contributed to bringing democracy to the country.

They are constantly shooting themselves in the foot. Neither the Obama formula nor Trump’s prescription will prevent the repression of dissent. In a rapture of civility, Raul Castro will not bet on democracy.

The pressure cooker theory will not work by remote control. Cubans are more likely to throw themselves into the sea on anything that floats, than they are to go out into the streets to shout freedom. Dictatorships have complex dynamics. Congenital inefficiency corrodes them like cancer. They fall by their own weight.

The dream of the hardline exile, of an indignant sea of people taking the Palace of the Revolution by storm, while on the other side of the puddle the professional political agitators celebrate with champagne, is just that, a dream.

Most ordinary Cubans are tired of everything. Since they have no vocation to martyrdom, they choose to emigrate. And watch from Miami, in colors and high definition, the longed for “riots in the streets of Havana.”

Cubans can be accused of being cowards. But not fools.

Photo note: Every day, from Monday to Friday, a line similar to the one in the photo forms as Cubans line up for consular procedures related to temporary trips for personal reasons or work in the United States or be permanently reunited with their families. But from the measures taken on September 29 by the US State Department, for an indefinite time the granting of visas is stopped and the current number of US diplomats and officials accredited in Cuba will be reduced by 60 percent. To those drastic measures is added an alert so that citizens of the United States will not travel to the Island. The new tightness or cold war on this occasion was motivated by alleged acoustic attacks that between 2016 and 2017 have damaged the hearing of and caused other health problems for US and Canadian diplomats in Havana. Although the United States is investigating what has happened and has not formally accused Cuba of being behind the mysterious sonic aggressions, nor has it shown any evidence, it decided to take measures that will affect the families of the almost two million Cubans living on the other side and, in general, to the march of relations between Cuba and the United States, reestablished on December 17, 2014 (Tania Quintero).

*Translator’s note: “Gatopardismo” is a term that means “changing everything so that nothing changes.” The term comes from the novel “Gattopardo” by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.